Farewell Amor

 

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A family drama introduces us to a new filmmaker of huge potential.

 
Farewell Amor

  

The great news about Farewell Amor is that although it is a first feature it immediately puts its creator, Ekwa Msangi, in that small but important category of humanitarian filmmakers. Just like India's Satyajit Ray, this African-American shows immense compassion and understanding for her characters and for much of the time she follows the approach of Ozu Yasujiro by portraying everyday family life in all its small but telling details. It is only late on in Farewell Amor that she seems to lack the confidence to maintain that style choosing instead to resolve the story lines to suggest a standard happy ending. But if that disappoints the promise of all that precedes these concluding scenes is immense.

 

Drawing on a world that she knows, Msangi sets her story in New York and presents a three-part narrative about a family from Angola. The father, Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, ideally cast) is a man who had come to America to escape the civil war in Angola, his aim being to set himself up there so that he can then offer a better life to his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and his daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson). These two had moved to Tanzania to await the news that Walter was sufficiently established to send for them and Farewell Amor opens on the day when they fly in to New York. But most unexpectedly it has taken all of seventeen years for this to be possible and that makes the reunion in many ways an uneasy one.

 

The first of the three segments (its's named after the father) reveals Walter to be a truly good man, but in the long period apart he has fallen into a relationship with a nurse, Linda (Nana Mensch), who had been highly supportive. It is accepted that in the new circumstances this should be put to one side, but we sense that Walter is now more at ease with her than he is with his wife. This is partly because Esther while in Tanzania has developed strong religious beliefs that rule her life in a way alien to Walter. As for Sylvia, he is getting to know her for the first time just when she is facing problems of her own. Esther's beliefs cause her to impose a harsh discipline on the girl who is now a teenager in order to protect her. She not only interferes when a boy (Marcus Scribner) takes an interest in Sylvia but also disapproves of her daughter taking up dancing even though the girl's heart is set on it.

 

The second and third segments entitled 'Sylvia' and 'Esther' respectively cover the same period as the first. There are brief overlaps of scenes but each section elaborates the situation by showing it from the viewpoint of the three of them in turn. The acting is admirable and that extends to a beautifully judged cameo by Joie Lee as a neighbour. Equally important is the way in which regardless of the conflicts shown Msangi is sympathetic to all of her characters (many viewers may react against Esther but Msangi is careful to ensure that we understand that she is truly doing what she believes to be in Sylvia's best interests). Watching these three central characters one is reminded of Jean Renoir's famous dictum from La Rêgle du Jeu that everybody has their reasons and that is in itself an indication of the high quality of this film. It's unfortunate therefore that the sense of complex reality that has been achieved is betrayed by a climax in which the drama seems somewhat contrived and by the film too readily embracing a quick resolution in which conflicts seem to fade away. But had it not been for these late flaws Farewell Amor would have been a masterwork.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Nana Mensch, Marcus Scribner.

 

Dir Ekwa Msangi, Pro Ekwa Msangi, Huriyyah Muhammad, Bobby Allen, Sam Bisbee and Joe Plummer, Screenplay Ekwa Msangi, Ph Bruce Francis Cole, Pro Des Virginia Hastings and Lance Mitchell, Ed Jeanne Applegate and Justin Chan, Music Osei Essed, Costumes Evren Catlin.

 

Park Pictures/Jhumka Films/MBI/Lucky 13 Productions-MUBI.
101 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 18 December 2020. Available on MUBI. No Cert.