Film allows us to take a peek into the lives of others — see their hopes and dreams and their fears and heartbreak — and a good film is intimate, yet universal. Director Ekwa Msangi‘s “Farewell Amor” is a just that — an intimate look at the emotional complexities of an immigrant family reuniting in America.
The film opens in an airport with Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), a soft-spoken NYC cab driver, being reunited with his wife and daughter after leaving them behind in Angola for the last 17 years. After such a long time, they all feel like strangers and must work to overcome the distance between them. We begin by seeing events unfold from Walter’s point of view. As the trio arrives at his one-bedroom apartment, conversations are terse as this is uncharted territory. As Walter cooks dinner for his family, his wife inquires about where he learned how to cook…who taught him? He awkwardly responds showing hints of something he is hiding. As they sit down to begin dinner, Walter is ready to dive in when his wife Esther stops them because they cannot start without prayer — the first real signs of new differences between husband and wife. Has the Angolan Walter become too Americanized after 17 years apart?
As we continue from Walter’s point of view, we see flashbacks and glimpses of another woman. After an unsuccessful and awkward attempt at intimacy with his wife, Esther reassures him that she has been faithful all this time while Walter’s response of “thank you” is very telling. The guilt and secrecy is weighing on Walter as he meets up with the other woman to ask if they can at least still be friends because she helped him when he needed it most — when he first moved to America alone to make a better life for his family. We also see Walter trying hard to reconnect with his now 17-year-old estranged daughter. How will they ever overcome the divide?
The film then jumps back to the opening airport scene as we now follow 17-year-old Sylvia’s (Jayme Lawson) version of events. Once they arrive to the small apartment, she goes straight to the bathroom to cry as her new reality sets in. One can only imagine what it must feel like to leave your life behind for a new country in which you must start over at such a pivotal and difficult moment in life. And to top it off, you are now seen as “other” and have a tough go at it at school because of your nationality and background. But Sylvia carries one thing with her from home that helps her during these trying times — her love of dance. And although her mother forbids her from dancing, it seems to be the only thread that connects the three. There’s even a beautifully shot dance battle scene in which Sylvia finds herself and her freedom.
Finally we return to the opening airport scene one last time as we experience the events unfold from Esther’s (Zainab Jah) point of view. One can only imagine what it must feel like to be reunited with a husband you haven’t seen in 17 years — you are practically strangers who must start over. As the days progress, Esther notices the distance and subtle changes in the man she once knew. As she begins to catch hints of another woman, she turns to God and her church back home (which just seems to be after her money) for comfort and solace. But in doing so, she pushes her husband to the brink, widening the gulf between them.
Can this family overcome the time and distance? Can they learn to trust each other again and rekindle their marriage and father-daughter bond? Will America change them? America and Western culture can be a lot to handle and take in for a lot of immigrants and many have to grapple with losing their heritage and culture — or about “watering” themselves down to fit into American society. At one point in the film, Esther exclaims “I will not lose my daughter to this country” — a fear that many immigrant parents have. At its heart, this is a story about finding yourself and becoming a family again, but shot and told in a brilliant and engaging way. In the end, Ekwa Msangi‘s “Farewell Amor” is an emotionally complex film that illuminates every characters’ point of view as they fight to overcome their obstacles while living an authentic immigrant story.
“Farewell Amor” will be released in December 2020.