“Farewell Amor”, which is currently available on MUBI, is a small but intimate emigrant drama about three good people struggling with the widening personal gaps among them. As the movie calmly and sensitively observes them one by one, we get to understand and empathize with each of them, and their somber but poignant drama eventually comes to us another interesting slice of American immigrant life.
The movie begins with the long-awaited reunion between a middle-aged Angolan emigrant named Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) and his two family members who have just arrived in New York City. More than 10 years ago, Walter left their homeland for a better life in New York City, but it took quite a time for him to settle in the city and then have a suitable staying place for his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and his daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), and he is hoping that he and they will finally be a real family again once they get accustomed to their new environment.
However, after their emotional reunion at the JFK airport, we come to sense more of the considerable awkwardness among them. Walter happily takes his wife and daughter to his small residence which incidentally has only one bedroom, and Esther and Sylvia seem to be glad for having their own place to live, but everything feels so alien to them. Having been absent in their life for many years, Walter still feels like a stranger to them, and Esther sincerely tries to rekindle her relationship with her husband later, but Walter does not seem to be that eager to do that along with her.
And we soon come to learn of a reason behind that. Before his wife and daughter came into his life in New York City, Walter lived with some woman who was dear to him, and he is still wondering over whether he did the right thing when he let that woman leave him for having Esther and Sylvia again in his life. During one evening, he tries to forget that woman as spending time at a local bar full of dancing people, but he is only painfully reminded again that he did love that woman.
Nevertheless, he tries to do what he thinks should be done for his wife and daughter. He and Esther continue to try to resume their married life, and Esther, who never considered cheating on him during all those years, is willing to be a good wife for him as before. While constantly conscious of the gap between him and Sylvia, Walter tries to be a good father for Sylvia, and he shows her his willingness to support her growing interest in dancing.
However, the gaps among these three family members become wider as before, and this difficult and complicated situation is also depicted through not only Esther’s viewpoint but also Sylvia’s. Although this shy girl instantly draws the attention from other students during the first day at her new high school mainly because of her foreign accent, it does not take much time for her to get more used to her new school life, and she also gets an opportunity to participate in a dance competition thanks to a generous (and handsome) male student who seems to be interested in befriending her.
In contrast, Esther does not accept well how things have been changed for her and her family now. As a woman who has depended on her religion a lot during her husband’s absence, she usually emphasizes to Walter and Sylvia on faith and morality, and Walter and Sylvia do not like that much although they go along with that without protest. When Esther tells Walter that she is going to send a considerable amount of cash to some religious group in Angola for helping her a lot in spiritual ways, Walter, who has often been short of cash throughout his immigrant life in the city, cannot help but become upset about this, and that puts more distance between him and Esther.
Becoming more distant to her husband as well as her daughter, Esther comes to feel more isolated than before, but then she befriends one of her neighbors in their apartment building. Thanks to the saucy supporting performance by Joie Lee (She is Spike Lee’s sister, by the way), the mood becomes a bit more cheerful as her character gladly gives Esther some good advices on where and how she should do a grocery shopping in their neighborhood, and we are reminded again of those diverse aspects of life in New York City.
During its last act, the screenplay by director/writer Ekwa Msangi takes a couple of dramatic narrative turns, but the movie keeps holding its calm attitude as before as generating several earnest moments to touch you, and Msangi also did a good job of drawing convincing performances from her three main cast performers. While Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, who is actually a veteran American actor of Ugandan heritage and has performed in a bunch of many different movies and TV series for many years, humbly holds the ground with his unadorned acting, Zainab Jah, who is a professional actor with a considerable acting career, subtly delivers her character’s conflicted state of mind without any overacting, and Jayme Lawson holds her own place well between her two more experienced co-performers.
“Farewell Amor” is the first feature film directed by Msangi, who previously directed several short films and TV drama episodes before. Although her achievement here in this film looks modest on the surface, I admire how she handles the story and characters with care and attention, and I am still musing on what she tentatively pulls off along with her main cast members during the very last scene of the film. In short, this is another small but impressive debut work of this year, and it will be interesting to see how much Msangi will advance after this successful debut.