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‘Farewell Amor’ is a stunning portrait of family and love

Farewell Amor explores a topic all too familiar to most of us: family connection. Being that this film navigates the inner and arbitrary webs of immigration, and how it can affect a family, there is even more to unravel. Our interview with Director Ekwa Msangi sheds light on her specific directing techniques that brought this film to life.

Our review for Farewell Amor and interview with Ekwa Msangi focused principally on these themes of family and love, both lost and found.

ekwa msangi interview
Ekwa Msangi (Cred: IFC Films)

Ekwa Msangi’s feature film Farewell Amor, which premiered on December 11, 2020, is an exploration of family dynamics. Years create an emotional distance between the characters, yet over the course of the film, they learn to know each other again and become closer as a family.

Farewell Amor is brutally honest in its approach to the intricacies of family ties. The story begins with a family fraught with unease. In our interview with Ekwa Msangi, we learned that this narrative was not foreign to her, and also, there is always more to any relationship than meets the eye.

Farewell Amor follows a harrowingly-realistic story

The film follows a family of three. Walter, the father, has lived in New York City for 17 years while his wife and daughter remained in Angola. Esther, his wife, has just been granted a visa to join her husband in New York, along with their daughter Sylvia.

ekwa msangi interview
A shot from Farewell Amor (Cred: IFC Films)

Farewell Amor, in review, began as a “what-if” story. A real-life story inspired Ekwa Msangi, as she told me in our interview, to make the film.

In the mid-90s, a relative of hers got married in Tanzania. The uncle received a visa to come to the US, and intended to bring his wife and child with him. But ever since then, the family has been caught in immigration limbo – a cycle of visa applications and rejections.

In making Farewell Amor, Msangi asked herself what would happen if the visa was finally granted. Where would the family begin to reconnect and how would they come to know each other again after so much time?

“What kinds of things would need to be swept away in order to make space for this new family?”

Ekwa Msangi

Film is a community – especially with independent films

Like all good independent films in review, Farewell Amor was a labor of love for Msangi as well as the crew and NYC film community she worked with.

What began as a simple idea – an image, even, of her uncle going to the airport to welcome his family – did not simply materialize into a movie. The contributions of the crew and the collaborative, independent NYC film community made it all possible.

To Msangi, in review, that’s the power of independent film. “I have people that I’ve developed several projects with over the years… I’ve had people making food for me so I wouldn’t starve during pre-production and production. It’s a real family,” Msangi shared during our interview about the NYC film community.

Independent film reviews often laud the work of the entire cast and crew and community in crafting such a beautiful work of art.

“It’s a real family and I so appreciate that. [I] really think that’s important, for any filmmaker, any artist really, to have a community to support you.”

Ekwa Msangi

The precursor to Farewell Amor reviewed

Farewell Amor is not the first project involving Walter, Esther, and Sylvia. The project before was a prequel, a short film focusing on Walter’s experience before heading to the airport. That scene at the airport starts off the feature film, picking up right where the previous story left off.

independent films review
A shot from Farewell Amor (Cred: IFC Films)

Working with experienced actors on that shorter film helped Msangi develop as a director, making the feature film greater in turn. As she puts it, “It elevates the project, it elevates the experience, to work with people who know what they’re doing but who are also interested and able to spend their time to teach you and help you learn.”

While the two films are about the same characters, the short focused mainly on Walter and his own moment before greeting his family at the airport.

In the feature, Msangi didn’t want to focus only on Walter’s story, “but integrate the story of his wife and his daughter.”

Each character, while bound by family, has their own priorities and wishes. The thing that helps bring them together despite the tension between them? Dance.

Dance as connection

Msangi, a dance (and Angolan dance) enthusiast, decided to make dance a “third language” for the characters. This would then allow us, the audience, to see more beneath the surface of what they’re experiencing emotionally.

Each dance in the film tells us something about the characters, while staying true to the Angolan dance styles that inspired the characters’ moves.

angolan dance
A shot from Farewell Amor (Cred: IFC Films)

Walter and Esther dance a couple’s Angolan dance requiring a high level of connection. The two of them have difficulty connecting throughout the film, with almost two decades’ distance between them. That Angolan dance, therefore, stands in as a means for the couple to communicate.

“There is no regular dance pattern you can lean on, and I thought it was a really interesting metaphor for a relationship. These characters don’t have history together to lean on. They have to actually be connected to know which way they’re going.”

Ekwa Msangi

Traditional Angolan dance, with traditional Kuduro music

Sylvia, the daughter, has a very different dance style that drives her part of the movie’s plot. The Kuduro music and dance style she practices are intertwined, as Msangi explains.

“It’s a style that’s practiced by a lot of young people who don’t otherwise have a platform to speak about the things they’re concerned about.”

Ekwa Msangi

What better metaphor for Sylvia’s personal struggles depicted in the film?

“I thought that would be a great metaphor for a young African girl who doesn’t have the option of having a tantrum with her parents.”

Ekwa Msangi

At the end of Farewell Amor, there’s no great resolution. After all the conflicts between the three characters, there is no simple conclusion tying up all loose ends.

The family simply decides, together, to try and move on together despite the distance between them. That is what makes Farewell Amor feel as authentic as it does. The movie started on a note where the characters thought their problems were over. In the end, “we’re left knowing that this family will try.”

What is next for Ekwa Msangi?

Will there be a sequel to Farewell Amor?

“I never say never,” states Msangi, but a sequel is not in the works for now. People of African heritage “have such a backlog of wonderful stories that need to be told,” and now this one has.

While Msangi can’t reveal much about her next project, it is a new story she’s been hired to direct.

As bad as 2020 has been for so many, this film is a testament to Msangi’s creativity and perseverance. It’s a demonstration, as well, of the NYC film community’s ability to come together and support one another.

Our Farewell Amor independent film review must end the same way it began, with a robust appreciation for Ekwa Msangi and the authentic portraits of family connection and love she paints.

It’s hard to say what the future will bring. But for Msangi, we think she’ll keep telling stories that matter, in a way that only film can tell them.

Check out the trailer for Farewell Amor here: