Austin Film Festival: ‘Farewell Amor’ explores the intimacy of an immigrant family’s reunion

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ekwa Msangi | Daily Texan Staff

“Farewell Amor,” a vulnerable film by Ekwa Msangi featured in the Austin Film Festival, sheds light on the hardships that accompany long-awaited hellos between a father, mother and daughter.

After 17 years apart, Esther and her daughter, Sylvia, travel to New York City to reunite with husband and father, Walter, who left Angola to start a new life for his family. The film is divided into three parts, each beginning with the moment the family embraces in the airport for the first time, before telling the story from each character’s perspective. With this set up, the viewer has time to connect with Esther, Sylvia and Walter as they navigate their new life as a family of three. 

A subtle theme of dancing acts as a constant in the divisive plot. It’s a commonality between the family members that speaks volumes when the right words are hard to come by. But instead of elaborate moves and matching costumes, the dancing in “Farewell Amor” is distinctive, minimal and intimate. It’s Walter’s hips swaying in rhythm for a partner dance and Sylvia closing her eyes on the sidewalk to jam to the music playing from her AirPods. 

The overall story speaks to an age-old tale of the American dream: Some immigrate to America with the idea that life is somehow better in the land of the free when, in reality, it’s not always what they dreamt it to be. Their New York City apartment is tiny and doesn’t have enough room for a family of three. It’s a place that isn’t always kind to Black people or immigrants, and a place where a school administrator feels the need to ask Sylvia’s father, “Does she speak English?”

“Farewell Amor” also explores the inner workings and tendencies of immigrant families in a relatable manner. Esther expects her daughter to take full advantage of the opportunities she and Walter didn’t have, placing an incredible amount of pressure on Sylvia’s shoulders.

Beyond the dancing and the immigration story, “Farewell Amor” is a film about new beginnings and fresh starts, just after everything seems to have fallen apart. The sobering but hopeful feeling is beautiful to behold, both in sentiment and in color palettes. Each scene is awash with vibrant hues. There’s the magenta lights in the club, the wash of white and gold at church and the pastel blues of the sheets that separate Syliva’s room from the living area.

Some snippets of dialogue are in Portuguese, the language spoken in Angola, and there aren’t accompanying subtitles. However, it’s never enough that it gets in the way of the film. In a way, not knowing what the characters are saying before they slip back into English adds to the intimacy of the story. It’s a secret shared between the characters and anyone familiar with the language.

Msangi’s film is a thought-provoking piece worthy of being called art. Both golden in substance and imagery, “Farewell Amor” deserves more witnesses to its eye-opening story. Don’t be fooled by the title. Say hello.

Rating: 4.7 out of 5