Farewell Amor takes a delicate look at an immigrant family that is reunited after being separated for 17 years and find themselves forever changed. Written and directed by Ekwa Msangi (Dollar Van), I screened it at the 2020 Urbanworld Film Festival. Farewell Amor is a story broken down into the three perspectives of our main characters: Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, The Chi), Sylvia (Jayme Lawson, The Batman), and Esther (Zainab Jah, Blindspot). We first meet this family at an NYC airport where they are reunited, full of hopes, dreams, and opportunities.
Starting with Walter, we get glimpses into how he has changed in the years apart from his wife Esther and daughter Sylvia. After the war in Angola, he fled to New York City. The subtleties of who is now versus who he used to be, are clear to Sylvia but not as immediately apparent to Esther. He is a taxi cab driver who has been able to maintain a good and rich life in the city. In the absence of his wife, he finds comfort through an affair with a nurse, Linda (Nana Mensah, The King of Staten Island). While we do not see or need all of the specifics or details around their relationship, through flashbacks we get a sense that it was a special connection, and the breakup was hard for both parties to accept. Esther, hell-bent on making the physical reconnection happen between her and Walter, neglects the emotional chasm between them. While Walter hides the remnants of who he truly is and the secrets he is hiding, he continues to grieve in silence.
Next, we dive into Sylvia’s journey. Sylvia is having a hard time adjusting to life in the States. Not just leaving her home and her friends, but also coming back to a strained and distant relationship with the father she barely knows. Dance is her only solace and her mother forbids it due to her over religious ideologies. So, when her father catches her dancing, he encourages her to be free and lean into those parts of herself. This opens up communication between them and eventually allows Sylvia to make space in her heart for him. While I don’t think nearly enough time was spent on her growth, we do see Sylvia make a new friend in DJ (Marcus Scribner, Black-ish), who sees her talents and also encourages her to enter a competition, doing it her own way.
Esther is the one who remains in her bubble, blinded by the bliss of reuniting with her husband and having her family in one place, she initially misses the signs of his indiscretion. She is so wrapped up in her religious beliefs and making her husband conform to his old ways of life, that she is neglecting her needs and not paying attention to her daughter’s in the process. When Esther finally starts to see hints of his infidelity, she asks her neighbor and new friend Nzingha (Joie Lee, Crooklyn), instead of going directly to Walter. When she finds out the truth, she is heartbroken and becomes spiritually, emotionally, and physically lost, having sacrificed so much of herself for this marriage and this move. So often, women neglect themselves and their gut, Esther is no different in that way. Through healing and the truth, she can repair parts of her marriage and family, but it is unclear if it is at the expense of herself.
Farewell Amor is a complex look at a Black family through the lens of immigration. The performances are endearing, with each character able to vulnerably and transparently share who they are when the story is centered on them and even in solitude, but unable to openly communicate their needs to their family. It is a beautifully shot interpretation of a very real topic within our community. So often parents put these unfair expectations on their children, inadvertently driving the kids not only away from them but from the person, they hoped they would be. So often marriages face challenges, and a breakdown in communication causes more harm than both parties would like to admit.
While a bit slower than I hoped and a little less defined in the story when we got to Sylvia’s point of view, I still found myself heavily invested in where the intersection of this family’s desires and truths would collide. I wish Walter would have been honest with Esther about his feelings for another woman BEFORE she moved to the States. I wish Walter wouldn’t have taken away Esther’s options, allowing her to choose if she still wanted to go through with the move, and perhaps also allowing Esther the clarity she needed to see her daughter fully before moving to the states. While I wish all of these things, I recognize that everyone in that family had to be forced into an uncomfortable situation to grow into the people they are by the film’s conclusion. Everything comes full circle, and this family can firmly stand in the truths of who they are, apologize for their mistakes, and rebuild with the people they are now, not the people they imagined themselves and the others to be.