Farewell Amor is a low-budget, independent film with complexity and spirit.
It is character-driven. It is contemporary and relevant. And it is genuinely heartwarming.
It begins with a joyous moment of reunion at an airport. A black man named Walter passionately welcoming and embracing his wife and daughter.
We learn that he has been separated from them for 17 years.
Having been ripped apart from each other in a brutal African civil war, he managed to travel to the United States where he tirelessly worked and struggled in order to rescue them and be reunited with them.
When he drives them home, the sign in his tiny New York apartment reads “Welcome to America Esther and Sylvia.”
But they soon discover that the promise of happiness and freedom will be fraught with obstacles of assimilation and acceptance, reverberating with culture shock and painful, personal revelation.
We learn that during the long lonely years of separation Walter had become emotionally involved with another woman. Normally, in dramatic terms, we might tend to think less of a character like Walter giving in to temptation when so much is at stake.
His infidelity is more painful when his wife confides that she remained faithful and loyal to him during their long separation.
But Walter, his wife Esther, and their daughter Sylvia are complex people, not stock characters in the kind of romantic predicament that we’ve witnessed so many times in so many movies. And that is true of Walter’s other woman as well.
They are human beings with strengths and weaknesses who blur the lines of acceptable behavior and beg us to withhold quick judgment.
What unfolds is a story immersed in details and nuances that compel us to watch and try to understand.
It’s a story of real sensitivity and depth. It’s a story that asks us to see the events through the eyes of all three of the main characters.
That opening scene at the airport is repeated three times, from the perspective of Walter, then Esther, then Sylvia.
The subsequent events are also shown from three entirely different points of view, underscoring the filtering of reality when seen through the eyes of different people.
The story device isn’t new.
It was one of the groundbreaking structural elements of Citizen Kane (1941) that earned the movie its only Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay.
Different characters remembered Charles Foster Kane differently, recalling and recounting contradictory versions of some of the major events in his life.
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) famously told the tale of a rape and murder from the perspectives of four different people, underscoring the subjectivity of truth.
While Farewell Amor may not be as monumental a movie as the two just mentioned, it effectively uses the plot device to emphasize a point—that there is a quicksilver aspect to truth, and the objective truth may be unknowable.
This is a slow burner of a movie. Nothing is rushed or overstated.
The story slowly builds momentum, one sure-footed step after another.
During the process much is revealed: Walter’s basic decency and strength, Esther’s devotion and religious fervor, and Sylvia’s youthful desire to somehow find herself in the confusing world that exists both inside and outside the family’s tiny apartment.
Ekwa Msangi both wrote and directed Farewell Amor.
It’s an engaging story, told with subtlety and restraint and an eye for detail; those tiny, telling details that tie a story together into a cohesive whole.
The use of color—contrasting warm yellow and electric blue light—in the apartment scenes is reminiscent of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) at times.
The camerawork and framing particularly in the final reel is exceptional.
Much credit goes to the performances of the three main stars, in particular Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, a veteran actor with an impressive resume.
His many talents extend beyond acting to writing, producing, directing and photography.
His soft-spoken but strong depiction of Walter is the centerpiece of Farewell Amor. It’s at the top of the list of the half dozen or so reasons that the movie is worth seeing.
Farewell Amor touches upon some very current topics like immigration and racism in America. And it tells a story of three, very authentic, very believable characters seeking redemption and love.
Farewell Amor is in select theaters and on digital and VOD platforms.