Review by Sean Boelman
One of the most assured and promising feature debuts of the year, Ekwa Msangi’s drama Farewell Amor is truly magnificent. Taking a familiar story and telling it in a way that is surprisingly unconventional and undeniably personal, this film is touching and beautifully restrained.
The movie tells the story of a family of Angolan immigrants who, having been separated for seventeen years, reunites in the United States, only to discover that living together is no longer as easy as they had remembered it. This could have been a conventional family drama, but in successfully exploring the stories of all three members with a good level of depth, Msangi makes this something a lot more empathetic.
Msangi divides the film into three sections, one each following the father, the mother, and their daughter. And while there are some events that repeat, it doesn’t feel as if Msangi is using this in the traditionally gimmicky sense, but rather, as a means of adding to the story in a meaningful way.
Even more impressive, though, is that all of the characters feel equally balanced. The audience will care about all three of these characters by the time the credits roll. Even when one of them does something that seems unlikable, when the story pivots to their perspective, viewers will be able to understand and sympathize with them.
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine’s performance is among the best of the year. It’s truly sad that small and personal movies like this are far too often ignored come the end of the year, because the subtlety of his turn is even more impressive than the flashiness that often defines usual awards contenders. Zainab Jah and Jayme Lawson are also great in their roles.
Msangi brings a wonderful eye to her film. Her emphasis is on getting the emotion out of the scene in a way that is completely natural, and so the camera is largely quiet and subdued. Also notable is the way in which she ties in African culture through the elements of music and dance, which makes the movie feel even more unique.
The piece that really brings this film together, though, is the way in which Msangi approaches these timely themes. The separation of immigrant families is one of the most pressing political issues facing Americans today, and while this story doesn’t show the literal horrors being caused by this practice, it shows the long-term emotional effects that it has.
Farewell Amor is one of the most lovely and surprising movies of the year. It will be hard for Msangi to top this, but it will nonetheless be exciting to see what she does next, as the level of talent she shows here is magnificent.
Farewell Amor screened at the 2020 AFI FEST which ran October 15-22.