Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Farewell Amor

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Farewell Amor
Directed by Ekwa Msangi
U.S. Dramatic Competition

There are many times that one person from a family makes a journey abroad to emigrate to another country in the hopes of making enough money to later send for those left behind. Such endeavors are never easy, and especially when the home country is one embroiled in conflict, getting permission to travel and move can be difficult even if sufficient funds are available. A long period of time can pass between the separation and reunion, and it’s reasonable to expect that all parties will have changed considerably by that point.

Esther (Zainab Jah) and Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) arrive in New York and are greeted by their husband and father Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine). Walter has been living in America for seventeen years while Esther and Sylvia escaped war in Angola to Tanzania. The religious Esther struggles to adjust to life in a new place, while Walter, a taxi driver, must deal with a relationship he started without his family that can no longer continue. Sylvia yearns to dance, something her mother disapproves of as unserious and her classmates doubt due to her heritage.

This is one of several immigrant stories playing at the Sundance Film Festival this year, but it’s a film all its own. There is a poignance to the way that Walter looks at his wife and daughter upon seeing them for the first time in nearly two decades, and he expresses a sincere desire for them to be happy as he works on how he can be the best version of himself for them. Sylvia keeps mostly to herself, but quickly befriends an eager classmate (Marcus Scribner) who encourages her to show the world what she can do. Esther is most fascinating to watch, relying wholly on her faith and slowly opening up to her new experience with the help of a friendly neighbor (Joie Lee).

All three lead performers deliver excellent, lived-in turns that make their characters much more than just generic archetypes. There is a sensitivity to how they speak that isn’t always apparent given the nature of their accents, but this film largely avoids any real depiction of discriminatory treatment from others so that it can focus on the more nuanced experiences they have as people in a new place. Writer-director Ekwa Msangi does a masterful job telling a heartfelt story that’s both culturally specific and universally relatable.


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