Review: Heartfelt Farewell Amor Is an Authentic Story of Family, Connection and Rebuilding

In the first feature from writer/director Ekwa Msangi, a family must find their way home. In the case of New York City taxi driver Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), his wife Esther (Zainab Jah), and teenage daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), that has nothing to do with the place they came from. Farewell Amor opens with Walter picking up his family from the airport, and soon we have some of the pieces of their life story filled in for us: They have been separated for 17 years, so long that it’s possible Sylvia wasn’t even born when Walter left their native Angola for America in the hopes of setting up a life and saving up enough money to bring his family over to join him. But the process took longer than anyone could have imagined, which didn’t keep Esther from hoping beyond hope that she would be reunited with her husband eventually.

Farewell Amor

Image courtesy of IFC Films

A great deal has changed during their time apart. Esther has become a devout Christian, to the point where she’s even eliminated parts of her life that used to mean something, like dancing. For Walter, his life shifted just as dramatically, and he began dating a nurse named Linda (Nana Mensah) who eventually moved in with him, all the while encouraging him to continue his struggle to bring his family to him. When we meet Linda, she’s moving out, but it’s not the last we see of her or feel the impact of her relationship with Walter.

In the confines of his tiny, one-bedroom apartment (the living room is curtained off to give Sylvia some amount of privacy), Walter realizes quickly that he doesn’t know the people living with him, and he struggles to continue providing for them while reacquainting himself with Esther and getting to know Sylvia from square one. It’s a genuine, heartfelt struggle that results in conflict and tension, especially since Esther is dealing with feelings of abandonment while also reconnecting with her deep feelings of love for her husband. Sylvia has trouble integrating herself into her new school, but she attempts to follow her dreams of getting on a dance troupe, with encouragement from DJ (Marcus Scribner), one of the few boys in school who talks to her.

Esther is against the idea of her daughter getting involved with dancing or DJ, and tries to put the kibosh on both as soon as she discovers what her daughter has been up to. Meanwhile, both women have deduced—using different paths to get there—what Walter was up to with Linda before they came to New York, and they have to decide whether they want to forgive him or leave the country entirely. Farewell Amor is not a film with any villains; it’s a sweet and heartwarming endeavor without easy answers to the issue this family is facing. They all seem to want to end up in the same place, but the path to getting there isn’t entirely clear, and it’s more work than any of them anticipated.

The film feels deeply personal to filmmaker Msangi, something entirely authentic, and we’re able to celebrate each small victory as easily as we cringe when things don’t work out perfectly. In a genuinely joyous supporting role is Joie Lee (Spike’s sister) as the family’s next-door neighbor who assists Esther in both understanding how American women act and think, and helping her take the steps necessary to recapturing her husband’s attention and affection. The emotions and struggles here are real, awkward and the necessary steps to bringing home to them, and this film frames their journey simply and beautifully.

The film can be viewed in theaters that are open and via VOD.

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