One of the most realistic and insightful works of art about the immigrant experience, Ekwa Msangi’s beautifully shot and acted Farewell Amor is a revelation. It looks at three lives torn apart by war and displacement. New York City cab driver Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) who fled the civil war in Angola has spent 17 years trying to reunite with his wife, Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) who’d moved to Tanzania. The film opens with their reunion at JFK airport that seems more bittersweet than joyful. Later, at their first, awkward dinner in Walter’s apartment, he realizes that Esther has become devoutly religious and that he doesn’t even know Sylvia, now 17. What unfolds is an unsentimental but tender tale of three people trying to reconnect after a long separation that has rendered them strangers. It’s a complex and heartrending aspect of the immigration experience that isn’t often depicted onscreen.
Each character is given a full arc that allows us to see their conflicts — Walter has had to bid a painful goodbye to the nurse, Linda (Nana Mensah), he was living with before Esther’s return and whose perfume still lingers in his sheets. Esther, out of place and longing for home, clings to a church group that demands her money. Lonely with Walter working and Sylvia in high school, Esther hesitantly befriends Walter’s wise and self-assured next-door neighbor Nzingha (Joie Lee, lovely even in a small role) who christens her “queen” and helps modernize her wardrobe. Meanwhile, Sylvia is adapting to American life, entering a dance competition and striking up a tender friendship with classmate DJ (Marcus Scribner). “Farewell Amor” is crafted much too thoughtfully and skillfully to resort to glib resolutions or political points. Instead, it weaves a delicate and moving tale of the messiness of separation and reconnection.