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Tanzanian-American writer-director Ekwa Msangi makes her feature debut with this warmly humane film after an apprenticeship in shorts, and it’s an auspicious start to a career that’s likely to accelerate fast.
Judiciously balancing narrational tricksiness with an accessible emotional register, Msangi tells the story of a family of three reunited after a 17-year absence. Husband Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) met his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) when they were both firebrand students back in Angola. But the civil war in their homeland and economic necessity pulled them apart not long after the birth of their daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson, a mesmerising presence). Walter headed to Brooklyn, where he spent the years driving a taxi, while Esther took Sylvia to Tanzania for safety, where as a single parent she found support within the local church. Now that they’ve finally managed to reassemble the atoms of this nuclear family in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in New York, elation gives way to awkwardness as they adjust to each other’s orbits.
However, secrets and, if not lies, unspoken truths get in the way. Walter, who found respite from his loneliness at the local African expat club, had been shacked up with another woman, nurse Linda (Nana Mensah), and he still secretly drinks in her smell from bedsheets hidden in a plastic bag at the bottom of closet. Esther’s religious zeal has turned her into someone quite different from the social scientist he used to know, while Sylvia, a dancer like her dad, feels she has to keep her passion for performance from her mother even as it presents a chance to integrate with other kids at her new high school.
Msangi rolls back the tape to tell each of their stories and unveil their very different perspectives with adroit skill, using clothing cues and understated repetition to make it clear what’s going on without labouring the point. Perhaps a different film-maker might have made fervent Esther into a bigger villain, but refreshingly, Msangi’s empathy extends in every direction. It helps that the cast tune into each other so well, getting in time with one another like the proper dancers they are, and bring lovely resonances to what – in the end – is a slightly pat denouement. But as a bonus, the always-welcome Joie Lee, sister of Spike Lee and star of many of his older films, pops in as noisy but generous-spirited neighbour who knows which market has the freshest produce.
• Farewell Amor is on Mubi from 18 December.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Farewell Amor review – humane and skilful Angolan diaspora tale | Film