After seventeen years alone in New York, Angolan immigrant Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is joined in the US by his wife Esther (Zainab Jan) and teenage daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson). Now cramped in a one-bedroom apartment, the family tries to reconnect.
Farewell Amor is an intimate character drama that explores some of the many facets of the immigration experience. It’s told from three perspectives, starting with Walter. Walter is a stranger to his family; his daughter was just a baby when he left, and his wife has had to do so much on her own and she’s found a new support network through religion. While it’s clear he cares for his wife and daughter, he doesn’t know them and he’s now having to get used to having them in his life and in his space where he could previously do whatever he wanted.
The way the story of Farewell Amor is told, with it being split into three perspectives, means you get some scenes retold or expanded through a different character’s eyes. This is most clearly seen with Sylvia. When it is Walter’s section she is quiet and doesn’t initiate conversations with him, however once it’s from her point of view, she’s more bubbly with her mother and a guy she meets at school but when her father enters the room she clams up and you can feel her uncertainty.
While Walter and Sylvia don’t know one another, it’s almost easier for them to start finding common ground as there’s no preconceptions for their relationship. With Walter and Esther, they have grown into different people based on their life experiences, perhaps too different to what they were.
For her first feature film, director Ekwa Msangi has brought together three talented actors and allows them the space to perform, the camera lingering on their faces in important and emotive moments. Jayme Lawson is a standout, for her first film credit (she’ll be seen next in The Batman) she’s a captivating presence and a hell of a dancer. Because that’s what Sylvia loves, even though her mother see’s it as a gateway to disgrace, for Sylvia it’s an escape and a way to truly be herself.
It does feel like Farewell Amor could have been more focussed to make it more of an effective film. It touches on so many things related to the immigration experience; the difference between parents and children as they try to adapt to a new country, the comments from Americans they have to deal with, the long work hours at minimum wage jobs. On one hand, it doesn’t make a big deal of these struggles as they are just a part of life but on the other, some of these plot or character threads don’t seem as developed or as important as they could be.
Still, thanks to the three central performances, you can sympathise with and understand the whole family. Farewell Amor shows how people can drift a part while still being connected and that it can be a fight to find an equal footing again. And if there is hope for the future of their family and their relationships, is it just destined to be false hope due to the pressure of the missing seventeen years of memories between them?
Farewell Amor is a beautifully shot and thoughtful film. The cast all feel very real in their roles and Farewell Amor makes a nice viewing experience, but something is missing from it to make it have a lasting impact.