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‘Farewell Amor’ is a Sweet Depiction of the Black Immigrant Experience

An Angolan man in New York reunites with his family after 17 years. After nearly 2 decades of bachelorhood, this comes as quite a challenge.

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London Film Festival 2020

According to popular wisdom, absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder, but there must be a limit to this clichéd expression. What if you have been away from home for a grand total of seventeen years, you’ve set yourself up with a completely new life, your wife is a distant memory and your young daughter is completely transformed from the last time you saw her? This is the key issue that plagues Angolan taxi driver Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), finally welcoming wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) to New York after fleeing the country due to the civil war. 

Farewell Amor ruminates on this central conflict as well as providing commentary on the Black immigrant experience, the true meaning of home and identity, the power of dance, and the scars left behind by war. It follows a fascinating triptych structure, starting with Walter dealing with the fallout of his extra-marital affair, before moving to Sylvia trying to fit in at a school where even the other Black students make fun of her for being African, then finally Esther, who has given her life to the Church and become deeply conservative.

This three-part structure allows every player to shine, giving equal perspective between them. Cleverly, it uses a non-linear structure to go back and fill in extra details without being redundant or repetitive. Wisely, Esther’s experience is left until last, crucially humanizing a woman seemingly stuck in the past. We may not agree with what she does or she feels, but Farewell Amor definitely lets us understand where she’s coming from. 

The central theme of dancing unites the whole family, but in different ways. Walter enjoys frequenting a local African-populated dance bar in the city, which he visits one last time with a mixture of joy and melancholy; Sylvia is more up-to-date with current moves and modern Kuduro music, and is pushed by a kind new schoolfriend to enter a dance competition; and Esther used to dance with Walter but stopped once it became clear his life was in danger. These scenes are complemented by a killer soundtrack of Portuguese-language Angolan music, ranging from old-school choices to high-tempo Afro-beats — providing an emotional connection to the country without us ever needing to be taken back there. 

This is Ekwa Msangi’s debut film, but it already shows an intuitive feel for empathetic character construction as well as narrative innovation. The characters are well-drawn and directed, allowing us to imagine and feel the loss of their past lives in Angola without the film relying on flashbacks. Additionally with so much going on, it would’ve been easy for the different threads to overlap with each other, yet Msangi manages to carefully needle her way through to a muted yet effective final shot. A quiet film in a busy loud year, this gentle, sweet, and heartfelt tale of immigrants making the best with what they have is definitely worth seeking out. 

Farewell Amor plays as part of the London Film Festival, running from 7 -18 October. Learn more via their website.

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As far back as he can remember, Redmond Bacon always wanted to be a film critic. To him, being a film critic was better than being President of the United States

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