Farewell Amor

Movies about immigrants are easy to find. There have been many in the last few years alone. Farewell Amor distinguishes itself nevertheless. Sensitive and observant about human emotion, writer/director Ekwa Msangi's film avoids big dramatic moments in favor of capturing simple, truthful ones. It subsequently has a fly-on-the-wall vibe, as though we're spying on the three central characters as they go about their daily lives. Unlike other pictures focusing on immigrants, which tend to be about adapting to a new country, this one is about people adapting to each other.

Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is an Angolan immigrant living in New York. The opening scene finds him reunited, after seventeen years, with his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and the teenage daughter, Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), who doesn't even know him. From there, Farewell Amor splits into three sections, each showing what a family member goes through in the days after their reunion.

Walter tries to reconnect with Esther, while forgetting about the girlfriend he's had while they were apart. Sylvia defies her ultra-religious mother by entering a dance contest, and acclimates to her stranger father. Esther, with the help of neighbor Nzingha (Joie Lee), attempts to figure out how to become intimate with the husband she hasn't been with in nearly two decades. She has suspicions about what Walter was up to while in America alone.

Farewell Amor tells each person's story, then rewinds to the day of the reunion to tell someone else's. That means certain scenes overlap. I think the story might have been stronger told chronologically, so that our empathy for the family could grow as we get to know them collectively, rather than separately. Presumably the point of structuring the film this way is to simulate the fractured familial bonds before tying them together at the end. Maybe that will work better for some viewers than it did for me.

Beyond that, there's so much to enjoy here. All three lead actors are superb. They give natural performances, and there's a lot of nuance in how they interact. Whether it's Walter's guilt, Esther's insecurity, or Sylvia's belief that she needs to repress her gifts, you get a great deal of meaning simply from studying what the stars do with their faces and bodies. The most powerful moments in Farewell Amor are unspoken.

The movie additionally benefits from excellent cinematography that makes New York feel appropriately exotic to Esther and Sylvia, as well as some poignant observations about how family members interact, clash, and come together. Farewell Amor is a terrific little indie with something to say not just about immigrants coming to America, but also about what happens when being in your own family feels as foreign as being in another country.

out of four

Farewell Amor is unrated, but contains some adult language, nudity, and sexual situations. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.