Farewell Amor: Love + Immigration

Farewell Amor

Contribution by Adwoa Owusu-Barnieh.

Farewell Amor (2020) is a heartfelt, understated feature film by director and writer Ekwa Msangi.

It is a story about an Angolan family reuniting in New York after 17 long years of separation, and their attempts to redress the disconnect caused by existing across separate cultures. This tender melodrama explores the significance of faith, love, and dance in repairing both the individual and collective sense of identity, family, and understanding. 

Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) has been living and working as a taxi driver in America for 17 years. In that time, Walter has struggled through the immigration process to bring his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and now teenage daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) to New York, whilst entertaining a loving relationship with another woman (Nana Mensah). The film opens in the arrivals lounge of JFK Airport. Walter stands alone, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, in nervous anticipation for the reunion of his family. The Angolan Civil War that brought Walter to America, took his wife and daughter to Tanzania. Now, after a lifetime apart, they are tasked with familiarising themselves with a new culture, new ways of being, and each other. 

Ekwa Msangi separates the narrative into a tripartite; the plot unfolds through the perspectives of Walter, Esther, and Sylvia in turn. All members of the family are shown to be fighting their own internal and external battles. In their own unique ways, they grieve what they have lost and reminisce on what they must sacrifice in their commitment to overcoming the emotional distance between them. Farewell Amor is not a film of protagonists and antagonists, but a film centring on three individuals connected by blood yet separated in a multitude of ways. They each are presented as humans experiencing heartbreak, longing, and the struggle to adjust to new environments. Walter, Esther, and Sylvia are a family existing between cultures, strangers to one another and the land they must call home, trying to find common ground again.

Farewell Amor

Angolan music drives the narrative of Farewell Amor. It carries both longing and nostalgia for things that cannot be. Ekwa Msangi, in conversation with John Akomfrah, explains the significance of music for Angolans in exile:

“Music, Kizomba and Semba, in particular, were so important in terms of the remembering of home, but also the transferring of information to the youth about what we’d left behind because many of them had never seen Angola.”  

It is music and dance that holds the key to reconnecting Walter, Esther, and Sylvia with each other. Yet, music and dance also threaten to keep them, strangers, to one another. In a subtly intimate scene, we witness Walter’s commitment to his paternal role. Walter speaks tenderly to his daughter, expressing the role music and dance plays in their freedom and liberation. As father and daughter learn to build a relationship, up until now thwarted by civil war, immigration, and personal choices, Sylvia is told that “when we get to dance, that’s the one place where I can actually be myself. Show me.” 

In Kizomba, Kuduro and Semba music, Walter, Esther, and Sylvia find the opportunity to show themselves: to each other and the new environment they find themselves in. Feelings of abandonment, longing, and guilt felt by absence have the potential to be healed through movement. The family spend the duration of the film attempting to dress their wounds and learning to dance together once again. 

Jayme Lawson plays a convincing Sylvia. She expertly utilises dance, body language, and silence to convey the experience of a teenage girl tasked with building a new life in a strange environment, with a father who has always been a stranger to her. The audience watches Sylvia in the back of Walter’s taxi, her head perched aimlessly against the window frame, eyes consuming the scenes from the new world she has found herself in. Angolan music is played against the backdrop of New York: flashes of high rises, skateboarders, taxis, and shop fronts pass by Sylvia’s window.

Farewell Amor

Jayme Lawson’s depiction of Sylvia looking through her window at this new culture aptly captures Sylvia’s role as someone who must exist between cultures, whilst still being separate from them. It is only through the music and dance of Kuduro that Sylvia can express herself. Music, as the vehicle of freedom, lends Sylvia the opportunity to make new friends, experience teenage desire, and attempt to find common ground with her parents. Kuduro dance is foundational to our understanding of Sylvia in Farewell Amor. Ekwa Msangi emphasises the metaphor the music creates in the film:

“It’s kind of harsh and from the streets and from the youth – young people’s way of expressing the things that they can’t say to their elders. Their frustrations with the economic situation of coming out of a 30-year Civil War. And what that’s done to the country and to people and domestic violence and all these different topics that people have feelings about, but don’t have a place to express it, other than through their dance and their music.” 

Ekwa Msangi, in her debut feature film, captures an intimate portrayal of love and immigration. She opens up the hearts of Walter, Esther, and Sylvia to their audience. We witness immigration as the complex, personal, and the human thing it is. Farewell Amor presents immigration as it manifests in interpersonal relationships. It suggests that, where words fail, dance can prevail and aid in overcoming the emotional distance caused by separation.

See Also

Contribution by Adwoa Owusu-Barnieh.

Farewell Amor is available to stream on MUBI

Farewell Amor soundtrack is available to stream on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2SH1e1uRcftVMpVAZJPWbG.

A brief history of the Angolan Civil War can be found here.

Anatomy of Kuduro: Articulating the Angolan Body Politic after the War by Marissa J. Moorman

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