The Austin Chronicle

Farewell Amor

Not rated, 101 min. Directed by Ekwa Msangi. Starring Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Marcus Scribner.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 11, 2020

Absence makes the heart grow … estranged in writer/director Ekwa Msangi’s touching immigrant love story.

Different from most of the recent spate of immigrant dramas whose storylines confront the difficulties of assimilation into American society and the challenges of living within this country’s present time of strong anti-immigrant sentiment, Farewell Amor focuses its turmoil inward. In this story, 17 years of separation is what threatens the survival of a marriage, not any governmental or societal forces from without.

The story is intimate and largely observational. Seventeen years ago, war in the couple’s homeland of Angola was the reason for their separation. Walter (Mwine of The Chi) came to the United States, and Esther (Jah) escaped to Tanzania. Living in New York and working as a cabbie, Walter sends money to Esther and their daughter, Sylvia, until the day they are able to rejoin him. Understandably, it starts off awkwardly. The reunion is further marred by the revelation that Walter lived with another woman during some of the couple’s time apart, while Esther, during exile in Tanzania, grew more obsessively devotional to her Christian faith and practices. Daughter Sylvia (Lawson) watches her parents’ difficulties from a distance and wins over the kids at her new school with her novel dance moves.

The family’s reunion story is enhanced by showing it from each character’s perspective. Each time, we discover more about each person and come to admire the sensitivity they show toward one another. Mwine’s quiet stoicism anchors the movie, and delightful supporting roles by Joie Lee (Do the Right Thing) and Marcus Scribner (Black-ish) lend extra zest. In her feature film debut (which premiered at Sundance), writer/director Msangi reveals the maturity of her storytelling talent and her strong aptitude for eliciting terrific performances from her actors.

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