This was an absolutely entrancing film that totally captured my heart with excellent performances, some of the most stunning cinematography of the year, and a simple story of love and loss.
The film is a lush romantic melodrama in the classic old Hollywood style that is perfectly updated for the modern age. It takes place in the late 50’s and early 60’s in Harlem. The story follows an ambitious young woman named Sylvie, played by Tessa Thompson, who wants to work in television. In the meantime, she works in her father’s record store and watches every show on TV. One day, Robert, played by Nmandi Asomugha, an up and coming jazz musician walks by the store and sees her through the window. He is instantly smitten and talks his way into a job at the store.
The film totally entranced me. It washed over me and just captured me with its smooth jazzy soundtrack, it’s lush production design and those pitch perfect performances. It all came together beautifully to transport me to a different place and time even if it was only a dream version of that place and time.
The film was shot on 16mm film. Actual film, and it is one of the best arguments for keeping actual film around that I’ve seen. The colors are lush and vibrant. The film grain has a texture that gives it a tactile yet otherworldly feel lending to that dream that the movie weaves. It also captures the actors faces beautifully. They are awash in soft color and warm light that is just exquisite.
The costumes and production design work in perfect harmony with the lighting to weave a tapestry of color so that every shot looks perfectly composed. Sylvie’s light blue dress, Robert’s dark blue suit, the golden doors of the theater they’re standing in front of all add up to a feast for the eyes as well as perfect recreation of what we like to think that time period looked like.
The scene that hooked me completely was early when Sylvie and Robert are sitting on the stairs in the basement, where the two of them are just testing each other and finding common ground. She is curious. He is guarded. They talk and share and open up and fall in love in real time as we get to watch. The acting is perfect and the interplay is subtle but loaded with meaning. It’s a wonderful scene and hooked me in for the rest of the film.
The film is loaded with memorable side characters, like Sylvie’s father played by Lance Reddick. He found a broken TV that had no sound, so he went out and found TV that had no picture and put them together to make one whole TV. Delightful. It would be wonderful to spend more time with him and the wonderful supporting cast, but the film is all about Sylvie and Robert. This narrow focus helps maintain the dream, but it also limits the scope of the story. We don’t get a full picture of the world around these characters. A lot of sub plots fall by the wayside and a few plot developments seem to come out of nowhere because we never leave Sylvia and Roberts perspectives.
This lead to a moment that almost turned me off to the movie. It’s a late reversal that changes the dynamic dramatically, and it felt unearned. Because of outside forces that we haven’t really been introduced to the characters behave in an out of character manner that just didn’t work for me. However, the final scenes make up for it and offer up a thematic explanation that carried me through.
In the end, I loved the movie. It’s not perfect, and certainly has issues. But I fell in love with it. I fell in love with these performers. I fell in love with the look and feel of the film. I fell in love with the dream that this movie is. It’s absolutely my cup of tea. A
Sylvie’s Love is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.