BFI #LFF 2020: FAREWELL AMOR Film Review

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine in Farewell Amor (2020)

Quiet, sensitive and thought-provoking, FAREWELL AMOR is an affecting feature debut from promising Tanzanian-American filmmaker Ekwa Msangi

4 out of 5 stars

Migration, memory and the importance of home are deftly explored in Ekwa Msangi’s affecting feature debut, FAREWELL AMOR, a thought-provoking drama about a New York-based Angolan man who finally reunited with his family.

As Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) reaches out to hug his daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) and her mother Esther (Zainab Jah) at JFK airport, it’s a cause for celebration for this Angolan family. They have been separated for 17 years after Walter moved to New York City following the Angolan civil war to build a better life for himself and his family. But the occasion also marks a period of uncertainty as everyone has changed over time, even though they have tried to keep in touch. Sharing a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, the family try to rebuild their lives together and overcome the personal and political differences that developed in their years apart.

Following Walter, Esther and Sylvia through individual, separate chapters, Msangi delves straight into the heart of these very personal experiences, and her film is all the richer for it. This simple yet effective approach not only shows us the intricacies of the three lives as we follow their days after the reunion but also provides allows time for the character arcs to develop, all aided by the superb cast performances, which leave their deepest impressions in numerous delicate situations.

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine is both engaging and charismatic as Walter, the cab driver who has his own secrets from when his wife was not physically in his life. Zainab Jah is equally excellent as Esther, a woman who has become a devout Christian since their separation, secretly sending what little money they have to her church back home as she faces uncertainty about her marriage.

But it is Jayme Lawson who delivers the star turn here, delivering a quiet, understated performance as Sylvia, the young woman trying to adjust to life in a foreign land. It is through Sylvia that Msangi’s quiet, lived-in script truly comes into its own, allowing each of the characters to reach their own emotional climax through a world lovingly created with dialogue and performance.

This is not a flashy or flamboyant film, and there is nothing particularly fascinating about its visual style, but what stands out about FAREWELL AMOR is the film’s innate sensitivity toward its characters. There is a lovely tenderness here, this sensitive and thought-provoking drama offering us a glimpse into the experiences of New York’s African immigrant population.

An affecting feature debut from the promising Tanzanian-American filmmaker.

FAREWELL AMOR screens at the BFI London Film Festival on Friday 9 October 2020