Review: Farewell Amor

Written and directed by Ekwa Msangi, reunited after 17 years, an Angolan immigrant is joined in the U.S. by his wife and daughter. Now strangers sharing a one-bedroom apartment, they discover a shared love of dance that may help them overcome the distance between them. Starring: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Nana Mensah and Marcus Scribner.

When this film opens and you witness the family reunited, there’s quickly a very intriguing quality to it, everything comes together to palpably give you the feeling of how complex the situation is, that all three of them have a variety of different emotions playing out under the surface. It’s a really great way to start the film when you can then follow as it slowly peels back the layers to reveal all those emotions. The film takes place over a relatively short period of time which is viewed in succession through each character’s perspective so that you can gradually piece together the entire picture.

The film touches upon a lot of different themes and topics, such as: love, responsibility, race, money, the immigrant experience in America and the struggle that is being a teenager at a new school. There’s a lot of familiar ground covered but the way that it’s done feels new, these characters give the themes a fresh perspective and the way that they’re handled feels very personal and relatable in a very accessible manner. One of the other ways in which the writing feels sincere is the awkwardness and clumsiness that it embraces, it’s undoubtedly an uncomfortable situation and a huge adjustment for all of them and it doesn’t try to shy away from that or click its fingers and they’re all acting like a happy family after five minutes, it very much uses it in the story. It has a really great message to send about learning to adjust and to accept the people you love for their faults. Particularly in exploring the father, daughter relationship, strained by the distance between them for most of Sylvia’s life but Walter has such patience and restraint in trying to become a part of her life, it’s incredibly sweet and once they start to connect they’re chemistry is charming to watch. It’s also really great that Msangi included a scene between Sylvia and Walter where he explains to her that being Black in America is a different experience than what she’s used to and making sure she’s aware of the rampant racism that she’ll likely experience, a touch that very much reflects reality.

Given that this is Msangi’s feature debut, she has a very established style of direction, a lot of the film takes place in their apartment and she does really well to use the minimal space that they have, it acknowledges how small it is while never making it feel claustrophobic. It’s very thoughtful in its choice of shots to fit the characters in a way they can be all shown together even in such a confined space. However, it undoubtedly gets its time to shine even more when it steps out into the city, it never takes its focus off the characters but especially with Sylvia’s scenes, there’s a lovely comparison between feeling trapped in the apartment to coming alive when she’s anywhere else, there’s a huge injection of energy and vivacity that’s enchanting to watch.

The other source of that energy of course is the performance from Jayme Lawson, she brings such a fantastic personality and confidence to Sylvia, especially in the way that she slowly comes out of her shell then when she does she’s effervescent. Mwine and Jah’s roles as Walter and Esther respectively are very different challenges, they’re restrained and overly polite while they try to rebuild their relationship after becoming such different people in the nearly two decades they were apart. Mwine’s struggle to move past his previous relationship to resume his responsibility as a husband is touching, he’s clearly heart-broken but pushing himself to move forward. Jah’s extremely religious Esther is similar in that she tries to deny herself from seeing the truth, keeping an overtly positive persona despite being extremely insecure. Jah’s performance is interesting in how she doesn’t necessarily build a likable character but the way that she changes through different perspectives from quite cold and stern to being vulnerable, really opens her up to sympathy and is definitely the character that changes the most as the layers are revealed.

However, the film struggles in a couple of respects, firstly the power of the emotions that it’s exploring are slightly lacking, they simply don’t reach the heights that would be expected of them. Secondly, its story progression in latter moments similarly doesn’t manage to hit the peak of the emotions that its bringing through, it switches the larger focus to their marriage and it’s not quite as successful in its telling as with Sylvia’s story. There’s a lot of weight put onto this almost reveal style moment but as it’s something the audience has known from the very start it can’t quite hold its own and lacks a stronger impact. Given how the whole story does revolve around their reunion and the rebuilding of their relationship, it’s surprisingly the least interesting aspect of the story, with Sylvia’s arc holding so much more energy it casts a shadow over the rest of the film and the scenes surrounding their marriage just aren’t as compelling. It would genuinely be very interesting to see Sylvia’s story continued, even perhaps as a mini-series, her experience of adjusting to the city and exploring her passions is so easy to watch and almost inspirational.

Farewell Amor is charming, touching, sweet and brings a genuinely fresh voice to a lot of familiar themes. It may struggle to bring the emotion through as strongly as it tries but it creates a fascinating portrayal of a family reunion through its use of different perspectives and letting you watch the characters develop as you can see them through different eyes. Msangi’s writing and direction are well done, especially for a feature debut, she has a strong style and brings a lot of reality through while always remaining slightly hopeful. This film shows you that no-one is perfect and you accept the people that you love for who they are, through thick and thin because being a part of a family takes work.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ ½

Available on BFI Player for London Film Festival from 9th to 12th October

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