The Paradoxes of Compromise

When we seek to fulfill a goal that’s so compelling we can practically taste it, we may be willing to do anything to savor the sweetness of success. Sometimes, though, we might be tempted to go too far, compromising our virtues in questionable and even troubling ways, actions that result in dubious consequences and vexing paradoxes. What are we to do then? That’s the exasperating challenge facing an exile looking to escape his circumstances in the unsettling new social satire, “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (web site, trailer).

Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) has quite a full plate to handle. The young, working class Syrian is madly in love with Abeer (Dea Liane), a beautiful young woman from a wealthy, upper class family. However, it’s not the kind of relationship that her family envisions for her, so they’ve taken the liberty of recruiting a more “suitable” future husband, Ziad (Saad Lostan), a man she clearly doesn’t love. And, to compound matters, Ziad is in the process of making arrangements to move himself and his bride-to-be to Belgium, away from his wartorn homeland, taking Abeer away from Sam permanently.

During one their clandestine encounters, Sam pleads with Abeer to marry him, despite the circumstances and consequences. His pledge is surprisingly far from discreet, however, pouring out his heart in public and proclaiming his desire for the freedom to wed the love of his life. Unfortunately, his plea for “freedom” is misunderstood, and he’s soon rounded up by authorities as a possible dissident opposing the rigid, autocratic Syrian state.

Fortunately, guardian angels are looking out for Sam’s welfare, and he’s surreptitiously allowed to escape confinement, though it’s up to him to find his own way of staying free. He knows he needs to flee Syria, and, ideally, he would like to find his way to Belgium to somehow rejoin Abeer. To his credit, he manages it to make it as far as Beirut, but he doesn’t picture himself becoming a permanent resident of Lebanon.

Syrian refugee Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) makes a deal with a questionable artist to become part of his latest exhibition in exchange for safe passage to Europe in the engaging and creepy new social satire, “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

For the time being, Sam takes a low-paying job and moves into a small flat with his roommate, Hazem (Jan Dahdoh). And, to keep himself fed, he sneaks into art gallery receptions to partake of the free food and drink. All generally goes well with that until one night when he’s caught crashing the event. Still, despite the infringement and subsequent embarrassment, Sam manages to meet the artist whose works are being featured at the opening, Jeffrey Godefroy (Koen De Bouw), an eccentric, wealthy, somewhat creepy creator of contemporary abstract works who unabashedly compares himself to Mephistopheles.

Sam and Jeffrey briefly discuss the evening’s awkward incident and the nature of his art works, but the conversation soon turns to the young refugee’s situation and his hopes of relocating to Europe. Jeffrey says he may be able to help Sam with that, provided he’s willing to agree to his conditions. Intrigued, Sam listens to the artist’s proposal, which involves him becoming a human canvas for a work of tattoo art to be emblazoned on his upper back. In return for access to Sam’s skin, Jeffrey agrees to help his subject relocate to Brussels. He’ll be required to put himself on display for a number of hours every day in Jeffrey’s newest exhibition, which will open soon in Belgium and later in other locations. While Sam is part of this project, Jeffrey will provide him accommodations in one of the finest hotels in Brussels, along with all of the amenities that accompany his stay. And, as the cherry on top of the cake, Sam will once again be close to Abeer, an opportunity to get their relationship back on track, one that he hopes her family will find more suitable now given the income he’ll receive from participating in Jeffrey’s exhibition.

With the basic plan set, Sam meets with Jeffrey’s hyper-efficient handler, Soraya Waldy (Monica Bellucci), who presents him with a contract outlining all of his obligations. Sam begins to suspect that he may be getting himself into an arrangement wrapped up with more strings than he originally realized. In fact, one could say that Sam is on the verge of embarking on a Faustian deal whose implications he has not yet comprehended. But, if this transaction helps him realize his dream of relocating to Europe and reuniting with his beloved, he’s willing to go along with whatever conditions Jeffrey dictates (and that Soraya promises to enforce). Little does he know that he’s in for a rude awakening, one in which he soon finds himself being treated as little more than a commodity. It forces him to ask himself, “Is this any way to live?” And, before long, he faces the prospect that even managing to stay alive might itself prove more onerous than he ever thought when he launched into this questionable venture.

As a human canvas, Syrian refugee Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni, back to camera) provides the “material” for a work of tattoo art in director Kaouther Ben Hania’s second narrative feature, “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

When we have a cherished goal we’d like to see fulfilled, sometimes we’re willing to do virtually anything to make it happen. The passion driving such endeavors can be quite potent – and seductive – almost to the point where we develop tunnel vision about them. Our attention becomes so focused that we can’t see the larger picture. We believe so strongly in the outcomes that the consequences of achieving such results are cast aside with nary a second thought. And that’s important to recognize, because our beliefs, thoughts and intents drive what we experience.

It should be noted, however, that this is true for better or worse, and, when those notions are employed as described above, the outcome can be fraught with unintended side effects. When we’re so obsessed with realizing a particular result at all costs, we tap into a potential metaphysical maelstrom. This all-out exercise in absolutist materialization can indeed yield what we want, but it can also become a tinder box of unforeseen difficulties, some of which can be extremely challenging to rectify. Then what?

As Sam’s odyssey plays out, he begins to see this very scenario unfold. He’s so desperate to leave the Middle East that he’ll do virtually anything to achieve that goal. Given the conditions he’s living under and the objective he’s seeking to fulfill, that position is entirely understandable. And, to his credit, he’s to be commended for devising the means that help to, at least superficially, make those eventualities possible. He thus demonstrates a proficiency at this that many of us might find enviable.

Nevertheless, despite some of the successes he realizes, he’s soon faced by unforeseen circumstances that raise new issues to be addressed, and that’s attributable to the unrestrained manifestation approach he employs. He may be bewildered by what transpires, but, if he were truly astute about this practice, he’d realize that he is just as responsible for the hiccups he experiences as he is for his triumphs. That’s because those ancillary outcomes arise from his beliefs just as readily as those that resulted in his successes.

To enforce compliance with the terms of a dubious business contract, Soraya Waldy (Monica Bellucci, right), the hyper-efficient handler for a famous but eccentric artist, reminds the subject of that artist’s latest work, Syrian refugee Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni, left, back to camera), of his obligations in “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

When this occurs, we naturally might ask ourselves, “How did this happen?” As a general rule, such outcomes arise from beliefs that creep into the implementing mix without our awareness (hence an insidious “unconscious” element). In Sam’s case, for example, even though he has a strong sense of clarity about what he wants to achieve, coupled with an intense faith that it will result, he’s also stirred into his materialization mix a hefty dose of desperation, a willingness to do whatever it takes to see his results realized. And, as most of us are aware, desperate people will employ desperate measures to see their objectives come to life. Is it any surprise, then, that his hoped-for outcome is somewhat distorted in its final form?

Had Sam not incorporated desperation into his belief recipe, then he likely would have achieved a different result. That’s where taking stock of the entirety of our intents becomes crucial. When certain beliefs remain undetected below the surface, quietly lurking about in our subconscious mind, they may go unnoticed, but their impact could be significant nonetheless. It thus becomes imperative for us to take all such contributing factors into account.

This is especially important when dealing with questionable collaborators like Jeffrey. When one transacts business with someone who freely compares himself to Mephistopheles, it should quickly become apparent that the devil is in the details of such an arrangement – literally. And, in scenarios like this, one can be fairly certain that those looking to assure compliance with the stated terms will come up with the means to make that happen, as evidenced here by Soraya’s ever-diligent presence. Being as specific and thorough as possible in these situations is thus critical to protect our own interests.

Admittedly, the failure to adhere to these self-protective notions could be attributed to an opportunity for learning a valuable life lesson, which could have some merit in itself. However, to avoid unwanted difficulties, it’s best to scrutinize the circumstances as thoroughly as possible to account for all of the driving forces involved in such undertakings and to plan for as many contingencies as can be accommodated. By doing so, the results may end up quite different – and more to one’s liking.

When Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni), the subject of an experimental art exhibition, is treated like a tradeable commodity, he begins to question his involvement in the project in the Oscar-nominated international feature, “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

To avoid unintended side effects in our materializations, it helps immensely to get creative in our approaches – overcoming fears that would hold us back, seeking to push limitations that would serve as barriers to our progress and so forth. That can lead to truly inspired manifestations. What’s more, this practice can help to extricate ourselves from particularly troubling situations. For instance, Sam obviously employed inventive measures to get himself out of Syria and to sustain himself while in Beirut, so he obviously has a certain aptitude for this ability. The question is, however, will he be able to do the same when he finds himself caught up in circumstances where the ante has been upped significantly? That’s an ability that will be put to the test once he arrives in Belgium. Will he be able to successfully escape this frying pan without landing in the fire?

A key practice to help minimize the foregoing is to tap into our sense of personal integrity, to be our true, authentic selves. By doing so, we lessen the likelihood of distortions appearing in our beliefs and, subsequently, our manifestations. It helps us avoid having to compromise our principles, reducing the possibility of maddening paradoxes arising in our existence and confounding our efforts to realize the results we seek.

Sam’s failure to do this inevitably leads to the disillusionment he experiences. To be sure, he may have escaped the turmoil he underwent in Syria, but is binding, enforced confinement – even if luxurious – fundamentally any different from the more brutal form he endured back home? Is the price of his freedom truly worth being treated as a commodity that can be bought and sold on the open market? And are his new living arrangements in Brussels genuinely an improvement over the company of the loving family he left behind in Syria, a bittersweet revelation to come out of video phone conversations with his mother (Darina Al Joundi) and sister (Najouna Zuhair)? It might be easy for us to lose sight of the answers to questions like these – and to the integrity that goes into addressing them – when our backs are seemingly against the wall, but we should make every effort to avoid this if we hope to dodge the disappointing and disillusioning outcomes that can arise from our failure to do so.

Chilling, satirical and full of irony, this contemporary drama about compromising our virtues and selling our soul for an illusory sense of freedom only to find ourselves more restrained than ever spins a captivating and thought-provoking tale. Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s second narrative feature serves up an array of intriguing and incisive insights and observations on a variety of social, political and economic issues, particularly the treatment of individuals more as goods than as living beings. The script’s deft mixture of macabre, witty and profound elements provides an entertaining and engaging combination that will keep viewers glued to the screen right up to its twist-filled conclusion. This multinational production, a well-deserved Oscar nominee for best international feature, is available for streaming online from a variety of outlets.

When we pursue new opportunities in life, are we doing so because we truly want something better, or are we merely attempting to escape our current circumstances? That’s the question we must ask ourselves, and, to attain the results we want, we need to be brutally honest in our answers. If we attempt to fudge matters in ways in which we’re less than truthful with ourselves, we might well end up with disappointing outcomes, ones that may spawn new difficulties that we hadn’t expected and that could potentially be more arduous to resolve than those we started with. If we’re truly to have skin in the game – as Sam does literally in this scenario – we had better know what we’re getting ourselves into before we’re left with a situation that leaves an indelible mark – and for which there’s no adequate resolution.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Introducing Life Quote Journal 

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been named a contributing writer for the new online magazine, Life Quote Journal. Dubbed “Inspiration for the Modern Warrior,” this uplifting new publication features an array of enlightening articles on a wide range of subjects, drawing heavily from the power of story and the experiences of its distinguished team of contributors.

As for my role, I will be submitting survey pieces about inspiring films that offer readers examples of how movies illustrate the principles of conscious creation (also known as the law of attraction). This powerful approach to examining how cinema can aid in our personal growth and development puts an enlightening and entertaining spin on this subject, showing how we can both learn and enjoy ourselves at the same time. The specific topics covered in these articles are tied to the issues’ inspiring themes, all of which are sure to move and motivate readers in myriad ways. My first submission, “The Power of Story Told Through Film,” appears in the magazine’s May issue.

Life Quote Journal’s 10-issue annual publication schedule launched in April, and both that edition and the May issue are now available online. For subscription information, click here. Enjoy these jam-packed issues of uplifting and entertaining reading!

The Path to Personal Evolution

Stagnancy can be a drag, not just in terms of the boredom factor, but also for the detrimental effects it can have on our personal growth and development. It leaves us stuck, watching time pass without any meaningful diversions, insights or hope for the future. But doldrums like these need not remain a fixed, unalterable state; we can transform, becoming more than we were and, perhaps more importantly, more than we thought we could be. Such is the case for a lonely, lovelorn young man in the delightfully entertaining new sci-fi comedy, “Love and Monsters” (web site, trailer).

When the earth is beset by an environmental and evolutionary disaster, much of humanity is wiped out. That’s because many of the planet’s animals – especially reptiles, insects and crustaceans – undergo radical mutations that turn them into enormous monsters with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. As a consequence, the remaining survivors are forced into makeshift underground bunkers, many of them far removed from one another. And about the only time that the survivors go aboveground is to forage for supplies, the leftover untouched scraps of their former lives available for the taking, a decidedly risky pursuit given the potential perils that await them on the surface.

While the bunkers generally provide a good degree of safety, life inside them can grow relentlessly tedious. It’s not entirely unbearable for those who successfully manage to couple up with romantic partners, but, for those left out of such fun and frolic, like twenty-something Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien), the solo life can become little more than an exasperatingly frustrating series of cold showers. About the only diversions Joel has are his artwork and access to a ham radio through which he’s able to converse with Aimee (Jessica Henwick), his love interest from the days before going underground. However, as time goes by and Joel finds himself as just about the only unpartnered resident of his bunker community, he realizes that something has to change. He decides to risk the journey to join Aimee at her compound, despite the many dangers he’s likely to face along the way.

Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) embarks on a perilous cross-country journey to reunite with his long-separated love interest in the enjoyable new family fare offering, “Love and Monsters.” Photo by Jasin Boland, courtesy of Netflix/Paramount Pictures.

When Joel announces his intention to leave, his fellow residents encourage him to stay, saying they need him to help keep the bunker community afloat. They also discourage this venture by tactfully but frankly noting that Joel isn’t exactly the most adept or street smart among their ranks; they wonder how he’ll be able to contend with challenges like huge man-eating frogs and slugs, among other perils. But, convinced that he has to make the attempt at reuniting with Aimee, he embarks on the 80-mile hike into the unknown.

As Joel treks across this foreign terrain, he encounters all of the menacing creatures he was warned about, but he somehow manages to protect himself, quickly learning how to draw upon his wits to keep himself alive. He also chances upon a number of guides to accompany him on his trip, including a loyal canine friend, Boy (Hero the dog/Dodge the dog); an experienced surface dweller, Clyde (Michael Rooker), and his pint-sized companion, Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt); and a damaged but still functional domestic robot, Mav1s (Melanie Zanetti), all of whom offer valuable suggestions for how to get on in the wild and how to maintain faith in his goal despite the many obstacles he faces.

Through this experience, Joel evolves in much the same way as the creatures around him – not so much physically, but certainly in terms of his personal capabilities. He becomes so proficient at survival that he just might make it to Aimee’s bunker. But, in seeking to fulfill his dream, he’ll have to face additional challenges of a different and totally unexpected type, as well as the exploits of a trio of new strangers (Dan Ewing, Ellen Hollman, Tre Hale), all of whom claim to be trustworthy but merit caution. How will it all turn out? Stay tuned.

In the days before their protracted separation, budding romantic partners Joel (Dylan O’Brien, right) and Aimee (Jessica Henwick, left) say goodbye in hopes of meeting again in the face of a global calamity in “Love and Monsters.” Photo by Jasin Boland, courtesy of Netflix/Paramount Pictures.

Embarking on a potentially life-changing venture can be fraught with challenges, pitfalls and uncertainty. At the same time, it can also be filled with hope, inspiration and opportunity. The question is, how do we approach such an undertaking? That’s significant, because how we launch into something as audacious as this can have a tremendous bearing on how it pans out. It shapes our frame of mind, which, in turn, forms the basis of our beliefs about the endeavor. And those beliefs provide the foundation for its manifestation.

Considering the odyssey that Joel is commencing, it would be in his best interests if he approached it with an outlook rooted in achieving success. But, if that success is to be realized, he needs to clear the path ahead of him, making a conscious effort to remove any roadblocks that might impede him. And first and foremost among them are the fears and limitations that would hold him back.

If fears are allowed to hold sway in an undertaking like this, they could easily prevent the sought-after outcome from materializing. They would essentially stop Joel in his tracks, because fear-based beliefs inherently keep us from moving forward with our plans, no matter how well thought out and meticulously orchestrated they may be. If such notions are present, we realistically have to ask ourselves, why would we intentionally apply the brakes to our ambitions before we even get out of the starting gate? Quite simply, they need to go, no matter how tall an order that might represent.

Man’s best friend, Boy (Hero the dog/Dodge the dog), lives up to that reputation when he joins a lovelorn twenty-something, Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien), on a dangerous journey to reunite with his girlfriend in director Michael Matthews’s entertaining new release, “Love and Monsters.” Photo by Jasin Boland, courtesy of Netflix/Paramount Pictures.

The same is true of any limitations that might block our way. Limitations are often propped up by excuses, which, in turn, are frequently governed by fears, all of which again illustrates the need for those notions to be eliminated. But, when that’s not the case, the perception of limitations as impediments can have the same effect as a fear blocking us from forward progress. In situations like this, then, we must make a concerted effort to devise solutions that allow us to overcome whatever is holding us back. That takes getting creative, considering options to which we may not have previously given any thought. It involves purposely thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope or whatever other motivational speaker cliché that one can draw from. These expressions may be a little trite, but the recommendations behind them are solid. We must think creatively to come up with workable solutions.

In Joel’s case, he accomplishes this by drawing guides to him who can help show him the way to overcome his limitations. Boy, Clyde, Minnow and Mav1s all offer ideas that he can embrace and adapt to suit his needs. He may not get things right on his initial attempts at employing their suggestions, but that’s how he learns to hone his skills, not only in a tangible sense, but also in refining the outlook he needs to bring about the results he seeks. And, in his circumstances, that can mean the difference between life and death.

As a corollary to this, Joel also affords himself an opportunity to learn about hidden skills and talents that he never knew he possessed. The circumstances in which he finds himself prompt the need for solutions, frequently of an innovative nature. All of which lends further credence to the notion that necessity truly is the mother of invention. And, besides presenting Joel with answers to his dilemmas, they make him aware of parts of himself that previously went unseen and unexplored. That’s quite a bargain when it comes to matters of our personal growth and development.

On a grander scale, the amalgamation of a number of such experiences enables the advancement of one’s personal evolution. Just as the world around Joel has transformed itself, so, too, does he as he goes through this wondrous adventure. That’s significant, for it affords him an opportunity to exceed his limitations and his expectations (as well as those that others hold of him). By allowing himself to grow and evolve through this venture, he has an opportunity to become more than he was, to transform himself into someone different from when he began his journey. Joel’s experience thus provides a shining example of personal evolution that serves as an inspiration to the rest of us.

A cross-country hiker making a perilous journey receives valuable support and guidance from an experienced surface dweller, Clyde (Michael Rooker, right), his pint-sized companion, Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt, left), and a loyal canine friend, Boy (Hero the dog/Dodge the dog), in “Love and Monsters.” Photo by Jasin Boland, courtesy of Netflix/Paramount Pictures.

When we take this principle to its highest expression, we have an opportunity to fulfill our destiny. In many ways, this is the embodiment of being our best, truest selves for the betterment of ourselves and those around us. Indeed, as Joel’s story unfolds, he comes upon circumstances that provide him with an opportunity to realize this for himself and the others he encounters. It’s his chance to leave a lasting legacy, one that’s beneficial to many, including those in need and some whom he has never met before. That’s quite a change for someone who once spent all his time doing sketches and just thinking about a better future.

It’s always a real treat when a film from which one might not expect much turns out to be a pleasant surprise, and so it is with this charming, fun, entertaining sci-fi/comedy/road trip/young adult romance tale set against the challenges of a crushing but comical monsterpocalypse. This genre-fusing evolutionary saga serves up a delightful story in which the concept of transformation is reflected in more than just the creatures of nature. Though occasionally somewhat predictable, the film is nevertheless filled with many delicious plot twists and developments that are augmented by colorful supporting characters (some of them human, some not), genuinely laugh-out-loud humor, and even a few touching moments that are truly heartfelt but without ever becoming sappy. Then there are the picture’s superb visual effects, which very deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for their clever, inventive, eye-popping designs. While “Love and Monsters” may not have a particularly compelling title, it has much to offer in terms entertainment value and engaging insights, even for younger viewers, qualities that are often hard to come by in fare aimed at such audiences. Even though this release has been quietly flying below the radar for a while, director Michael Matthews’s second feature outing deserves wider attention than it has been getting in light of everything it has going for it.

With wild and deadly creatures all around him, intrepid hiker Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) must defend himself by any means possible in “Love and Monsters,” now available for streaming and on home media. Photo by Jasin Boland, courtesy of Netflix/Paramount Pictures.

Sitting on the sidelines, waiting for life to happen, gets us nowhere. If we want our lives to change, we have to be agents of that change, taking steps to nurture and encourage that evolution in hopes that it fulfills our dreams and brings us the reality we want. It’s attainable, but we have to invoke it, with confidence and resolve and without reservation. If someone like Joel Dawson can understand that and make the effort to attain it, then we should be able to as well. And, even if we don’t succeed at it, at least the attempt sure as hell beats being stuck in a bunker all day.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

What Makes Relationships Work

Our interpersonal relationships are among the most prized aspects of our lives. They’re cherished gifts to ourselves and to those we care about, and preserving them is of the utmost importance. But what happens when we drift apart, not necessarily because of intentionally malicious acts, tragedies or other negative influences, but simply because of circumstances brought about by the separation of time and distance. Can those connections be sustained or, if needed, rebuilt? That’s what a family must discover for itself in the moving new domestic drama, “Farewell Amor” (web site, trailer).

After a 17-year separation, a family of Angolan immigrants is about to be reunited. Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), head of the household, has been living in New York after fleeing the decades-long political strife of his homeland. His wife, Esther (Zainab Jah), remained behind with their young daughter, Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), while he sought to make arrangements for them to come to the US. However, endless delays and red tape kept that from happening, eventually forcing Esther and Sylvia to relocate to Tanzania to seek safety while awaiting approval to join their husband and father.

While Walter and Esther appear to be happy to be reunited, 17 years is a long time to be separated. A lot can happen in that time, as is the case with this long-parted couple. They quickly discover that their reunion is an exercise in starting from scratch, getting to know one another all over again. And, then, of course, there’s Sylvia, who adds yet another dimension to this scenario. She was a mere child when Walter last saw her, and she doesn’t seem to be particularly thrilled to be in New York, separated from her friends and the people she grew up with in Africa. The family’s situation is thus akin to three strangers trying to make things work out together from square one.

After a 17-year separation, an Angolan immigrant family (from left, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson) is reunited in New York to begin a new life in director Ekwa Msangi’s debut feature, “Farewell Amor.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

As their saga unfolds, the film tells their story in three segments, one named for each of the protagonists. In the first, “Walter,” viewers learn how the one-time aspiring journalist gave up on his dream when he left Africa, taking a job as a cab driver once he arrived in New York. Through the years, he struggled to get by financially and to make arrangements for Esther and Sylvia to join him in America. However, after years of being on his own, and given the ongoing uncertainty that his family would ever be able to reunite with him, he began broadening his social and amorous interests. He eventually became involved in a new romance with a nurse, Linda (Nana Mensah), a relationship that he reluctantly had to dissolve when Esther and Sylvia arrived. But, despite their breakup, Walter’s feelings for Linda remain strong (and vice versa), especially when he sees that his compatibility with Esther is not what it once was. This is primarily due to Esther becoming a devout fundamentalist Christian during her 17 years in Africa, a transformation that she brought with her to America and that has manifested itself as a perpetual act of annoying, ever-self-righteous evangelizing. Needless to say, it’s a change that doesn’t suit Walter and doesn’t do much to help rekindle the romance in their increasingly rocky marriage.

The second segment, “Sylvia,” explores the difficult adjustment of Walter and Esther’s teenage daughter in her attempt to assimilate into a new life in New York. She’s often aloof and on her own. She misses her friends terribly. She’s frustrated by her mother’s meddling fundamentalist ways, most notably her restrictions on her behavior, particularly her love of dance. And, at least initially, she makes little effort to warm up to her father. But then she meets DJ (Marcus Scribner), a budding romantic interest who helps her reconnect with opportunities to express herself through dance. She also comes to realize that Walter is nothing like Esther, an understanding that helps to warm relations between them. But will she be allowed to truly be herself under these conditions? The growing disharmony in the household makes circumstances increasingly tense, too. Will she be able to make the adjustment she so desperately seeks to achieve?

The final segment, “Esther,” links the two previous sequences to the experiences of the third member of this domestic triad. Through a series of seemingly innocuous incidents, Esther begins to have suspicions about Walter’s infidelity, several of them unwittingly instigated by long-term neighbor Nzingha (Joie Lee). The street smart, plainspoken African mystic is aware of Walter’s history with Linda and does whatever she can to help Esther win back her man. However, in doing so, Nzingha candidly tells Esther what she needs to do to shape up if she hopes to save her marriage, offering advice that frequently takes her out of her sheltered religious bubble and encourages her to remove the blinders of naïveté that aren’t doing her any good. The question is, will she listen? And will it be enough to preserve her relationship and the sanctity of the family?

A cool reconciliation between long-separated immigrant father Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, left) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson, right) slowly begins to warm with time in the engaging domestic drama, “Farewell Amor.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

To get along best with others, it always helps to be authentic, a process that starts with being genuine within ourselves. This should seem obvious to most of us, because doing so presents us in our most sincere light. But, if we can’t, don’t or won’t operate from a sense of personal integrity, we should expect problems to arise, because the beliefs associated with that stance present a distorted view of who we are, a quality sure to show up in the reality surrounding us, including our relationships with others.

Our beliefs concerning our interpersonal relationships are often among the most fragile and the ones that can become most easily damaged if we discover that they don’t align with what we’re experiencing. For instance, Walter is less than honest about his romance with Linda. Sylvia is deceitful about her desire to pursue dancing opportunities despite her mother’s disapproval. And both of them clam up when it comes to their feelings about Esther’s incessant proselytizing. Meanwhile, Esther believes that both her husband and daughter are being completely truthful about themselves, lulling her into a false sense of security that’s shattered when evidence to the contrary begins surfacing. Is it any wonder that these disconnects lead to relationships fraught with difficulties?

In large part this occurs when collaborations like this are fueled by beliefs and intents that don’t jibe. These collaborations are tainted almost from the outset, and, as the scenario here plays out, problematic relationships and circumstances result. This can be fixed by setting things right, of course, but that can be hard to achieve once the damage is done. The egg generally can’t be unscrambled.

In a rare moment of closeness, immigrant mother Esther (Zainab Jah, left) shares a hug with daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson, right) in “Farewell Amor,” now available for online streaming. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

That’s why it’s best to start out honestly to begin with. Even if the family has been separated for a long time, father, mother and daughter would serve themselves best by beginning with an unblemished slate, laying all their cards on the table. Of course, attempting this means getting real, eliminating pretense, taking off blinders and ridding oneself of wishful thinking. That’s likely going to be most difficult for Esther, who naïvely believes that her faith (or, more precisely, her religion, for the right price) will take care of everything for her to make matters right. It’s an outlook she might want to revisit in light of her circumstances.

Because rebuilding family relationships is a joint effort, Walter, Esther and Sylvia need to work on their connections with one another, something they generally haven’t had to contend with for 17 years. That can be difficult when current conditions don’t mesh with previous impressions. Walter, for example, is mystified by Esther’s religious preoccupation. Her constant obsessions with piety, holding “sinfulness” at bay and strict obedience to her calling have taken much of the everyday joy out of her life, one of the qualities that Walter once adored about her. And, when she tries to instill comparable perspectives in him, he’s drawn aback; he still loves the aspects of daily living that Esther has somehow come to see as against God’s way. It’s no wonder he still feels drawn to Linda, because she provides him with a companion and a conduit to the activities he continues to enjoy.

This consideration is also important to Walter and Sylvia, who have virtually no connection to one another when the story opens. Because he hasn’t seen his daughter since she was very young, he’s never had a chance to build much, if any, connection to her. Given that the only parent Sylvia has ever known is Esther, it’s understandable that she’s naturally cautious when it comes to dealing with Walter. What if he’s just like her mother? Then she would have doubly unbearable circumstances to deal with.

Fortunately, relations between Walter and Sylvia gradually warm, because they can see that they’re more on the same page than they might have originally thought. Building their connection will take some time, but patience truly is a virtue when it comes to forging bonds like this. To rebuild a workable relationship, this consideration will obviously need to be implemented where Walter and Esther are concerned. It will also be beneficial if Esther and Sylvia hope to improve their connection with one another.

Angolan immigrant Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, right), long separated from his wife and daughter, embarks on a new relationship with Linda (Nana Mensah, left) after years on his own in New York in director Ekwa Msangi’s award-winning debut feature, “Farewell Amor.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Again, fortunately, there’s help to accomplish this, and Esther successfully manages to summon it to her when she needs it most. The advice and guidance provided by Nzingha proves invaluable, even if her straight-talking approach sometimes leads to statements that Esther would rather not hear. Nevertheless, such splashes of cold water are often necessary to rid ourselves of foolish notions and outmoded beliefs that no longer serve us, especially when there’s a lot on the line.

All of the foregoing measures help to strengthen the honesty and integrity that go into what makes our relationships work. By embarking in a spirit of focused cooperation and collaboration, we can promote the development of healthy co-creative efforts. The question for Walter, Esther and Sylvia is, are they willing and able to make the effort? As noted earlier, this takes time and patience. For their sake, let’s hope they’re capable of devoting enough of both to achieve success.

The story in “Farewell Amor” may be a simple one, but it’s filled with heartfelt emotion on every front. The inventive storytelling approach employed in director Ekwa Msangi’s debut narrative feature incorporates details of the trio’s collective story in each segment that don’t appear in the preceding or following chapters, thus allowing the overall odyssey to be pieced together like a puzzle. By presenting the story in this way, viewers witness the bigger picture gradually come into view in much the same way that the protagonists do, a refreshingly revelatory storytelling experience. Admittedly, some of the material is somewhat predictable and more than a little bit sentimental, but these drawbacks are compensated for by fine performances, touching writing and a pervasive warmth, all aimed at shining a bright light on the experience of what it’s like to live under circumstances such as these. It’s an important message in a time like this, with so many from so many places living under similar conditions. In doing so, the picture illuminates the connections, challenges, hardships and reconciliations that those living out the immigrant experience go through and share with one another, no matter what their points of origin, ports of entry or hopes for the future may be. The film is available for streaming online.

“Farewell Amor” has received more than its fair share of praise from critics and at film festivals. It was also named one of 2020’s Top 10 Independent Films by the National Board of Review. And director Msangi was recently named the winner of the Someone To Watch Award in the Independent Spirit Awards competition, honors all well deserved.

Anything worth maintaining is worth fighting for. That’s particularly true when it comes to something as significant and meaningful as our relationships. But, if that’s to happen, we must believe in the possibility that they can be preserved and, if needed, redeemed. It may be tempting to give up when circumstances become difficult, but is such abandonment truly the wisest course, even if it’s perceived as being the easiest? One must look within when such situations arise with an open and honest heart to assess what we run the risk of losing before it’s too late.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.