The Movie Waffler New Release Review [MUBI] - FAREWELL AMOR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [MUBI] - FAREWELL AMOR

farewell amor review
A refugee's wife and daughter join him in New York after being separated for 17 years.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ekwa Msangi

Starring: Ntare Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Nana Mensah

farewell amor poster

Remember Hugh grant's cheesy but not entirely untrue monologue in Love Actually about how an airport arrivals lounge is the one place you can find humans expressing unfiltered, unbridled love? Few events are as emotionally provocative as a reunion between those who have been separated for a lengthy period, but what if the parties concerned have changed so much during their separation that they now barely resemble the absent family members they've been pining for?

farewell amor review

That's the question posed by writer/director Ekwa Msangi in her beautifully played feature debut Farewell Amor. As with the aforementioned British rom-com, Msangi's film opens with an airport reunion as Angolan refugee turned New York cabbie Walter (Ntare Mwine) is reunited with his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) after 17 long years. When civil war broke out in their country, Walter left for the US as Esther and the then newborn Sylvia were relocated to Tanzania while awaiting permission to join Walter in his new home in the Big Apple.

While the three are happy to be reacquainted, the reunion doesn't go smoothly. In the intervening years, Walter had fallen in love with a nurse, Linda (Nana Mensah), and was forced to end their relationship upon learning of his wife's imminent arrival. During her time in Tanzania, Esther has found religion (it's suggested that she and Sylvia were taken care of by a church that she now feels indebted to), something Walter struggles to comprehend, particularly when he discovers she plans to wire her savings back to the church. Sylvia simply misses her friends back home, and feels awkward in the presence of the father she only knows from phone calls.

farewell amor review

Recent immigrant dramas have tended to focus on the struggles of their newly arrived protagonists to fit in with the society they now found themselves living on the fringes of. Farewell Amor eschews this dynamic, painting New York in a largely positive light, its natives going out of their way to welcome Esther and Sylvia. A confident neighbour of Walter's takes the shy Esther under her wing, showing her where to get the best food in the neighbourhood and giving her a fashion makeover, while a classmate of Sylvia encourages her to enter a dance competition, something her conservative mother disapproves of. The conflict isn't between Farewell Amor's immigrants and the rock they've landed on, but rather among the family members themselves.

The three central performances are quietly heart-rending. Walter, Esther and Sylvia speak softly and walk around their adopted city with their eyes lowered, hoping not to be noticed. They've seen humanity at its worst and are understandably suspicious of any human attention. All three are scared of causing offence to differing parties. As a black man with an accent, Walter is careful not to offend white New Yorkers. Sylvia keeps her dance rehearsals a secret from her disapproving mother. Esther seems terrified of offending her God.

farewell amor review

Farewell Amor is a tender New York drama in the vein of the films of Ira Sachs. Voices are never raised, and there are no "Oscar speech" moments. Instead we get three people dancing, both literally and metaphorically, around their inability to confront the difficulties of slotting back into being a family once again. In many ways it feels like a lighter companion to another of 2020's best films, Sean Durkin's The Nest, and both movies end with almost identical scenes set at breakfast tables. Despite their troubles, we're left feeling that Walter, Esther and Sylvia will be alright in their new life in New York. If they can make it there, they'll make it anywhere.

Farewell Amor
 is on MUBI UK from December 18th.

2020 movie reviews