Desire and dreams meet beautifully in “Sylvie’s Love”, an old-fashioned romance for 21st-century hearts. Moderately yet emotionally broadened, it tracks a pair of young lovers from the late 1950s to the 60s in years of joy and regret. As the world changes, they meet, fall hard, hesitate and break apart. Between Kiss and Ah, Nancy Wilson sings (“All My Bright Tomorrow Belongs to You”), and the screen floods with bold colors and passion. Leave the fort you are hiding in, the film says. Let the emotions come in, let the tears flow – that’s what films are made of.
Our heroine, Sylvie – an irresistible Tessa Thompson – lives in Harlem with her parents. She works in her father’s record store (Monk in that bin, Sunny Rollins there) and dutifully models when her mother teaches girls etiquette in saddle shoes. Sylvie, with her pixie haircut and perfectly fitted turtleneck, her doe eyes and tenderly expressive face, looks as if she is waiting for her close on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer backloth. But she is a black woman in America in 1957 and characters like her will not be shown in such cinematic adoration until such films can be made, films that show you what motion pictures can be and Should have been
When an up-and-coming saxophonist, Robert (a producer on the film), walks into the record shop, the story quickly settles into its groove. Sparks fly, though it takes Sylvie a little longer to notice (or accept) than Robert. He has a fiancée, the son of a wealthy doctor whom he met with a cotillion. What is a cotillion, Robert asks, one of the nuances of the story on class difference. But Robert is cute and flirty, and soon he and Sylvie seem comfortably worthwhile. When they finally kiss, the moment is as tremulous and carefully staged as a classic studio romance: it’s night, the lighting is beautiful and so are they.
“Sylvie’s Love” is the second feature of Eugene Ash, who knows how to move the camera (and not when), but also how to stage it inside the frame. He is an outspoken cinematographer; A scene full of red lights in a Chinese restaurant reads like a waving valentine for Wong Kar-wai’s “In the mood in love”. But Ash is not involved in fanboy allowance to burn his credentials. Rather, like Todd Haynes in his tragic tune “Far from Heaven” (and once in the studio, Douglas Sirk), Ash is using a familiar, long-derided film style both lovingly and critically in the lush surfaces of life. To find out. Suffering that lies beneath.
Because Asha takes melodrama seriously, she is committed to its succulent honesty. He doesn’t peek at you, urging Giggles to know about the nakedness of emotions. Instead, he tells you all to let go, to fall in love with Sylvie and Robert for the way they fight for each other, concern and root for them. This is easy to do because both artists are so attractive. Thompson’s ability to externalize emotions is particularly important in what Ash is doing and why she puts it on her face when she first plays Robert at a club. As he listens, his face opens and emotions run into it – animating it, warming it up – and it’s clear that now he Actually Looks at him.
Ash lied to Thompson, allowing him to do a lot of work when Sylvie and Robert were together. Asomugha is a good reactor and is good to watch, but he does not have Thompson’s Emotion range. The rest of the cast are first-rate and include Eva Longoria, Lance Reddick, Erica Gimpel and Aja Nami King. I am less persuaded as Countess by Jemima Kirke, a wealthy jazz fan who swoops into Robert’s life, providing cash and connections. A more convincing symbol may come under the protection of white ancestry, but then, like most white characters, the countess is quite irrelevant.
This is the case of the film. “Sylvie’s Love” serves as a fairly convincing work to recreate a 1950s Hollywood melodrama, if not in all its details, rather than an emphasis on passionate feelings and emotions. Characters do not sound like they have spent time on the couch; They talk and sometimes explore things, but they do not explain more than self-help insights. Sometimes, they are silenced (“many times they are a changin”), because Ash’s script is not always up to their ambitions. But it is lovely when the filmmaking talks, when the grand score rolls around and the palette trembles with many shades of blue and splashes of bright red, green and pumpkin.
Ash’s most radical trick is how she creates a classic melodrama to tell a story of black love that would never have been told in Old Hollywood. (Today’s commercial mainstream has given up a lot on pure romance, regret.) Particularly enlightening is her continued focus on the inner lives of her characters, who long for Sylvie and Robert, and dream, As a human being, rather as a symbol. A race or avatar of ideals. The big world presses, as it is, and there are references to the civil rights movement here and there. Yet as important as it is, the all-white face on TV shows Sylvie sees, pictures he studies and hopes to change one day.
Ash wants you to consider the life of his lovers, but he also wants you to pounce on him, he wants you to take a leap of empathy so that you feel – and think – about other lives in your body In depth. Critics satirized about melodrama, dismissing him as a three-pronged cry. Bring tissue, he wrote, Salah which ridiculed both the films and their arrogant female audiences. You should hold the tissues to watch “Sylvie’s Love”, but I mean it’s encouraging. I watched the film alone on a December morning. I was transferred, and transported. This year has given us many things to cry about, but here is a story lost and to cry with joy, with gratitude.
Rated PG-13 for adult life. Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes. Look on Amazon.