Film: Sylvie’s Love
Written and Directed by: Eugene Ashe
Distributed by: Amazon Films (release date 23rd December 2020)
Reviewed by Heather Marks
In a gorgeous homage to 1950’s Hollywood romance, Sylvie’s Love centres black love with radical optimism.
Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) is an emerging jazz saxophonist and Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) a young woman with ambitions to become a television producer. After meeting in her father’s record store, Sylvie and Robert embark on a summer romance that unearths a deep, long-lasting connection. Split by circumstance, the film follows Sylvie and Robert as they chase their dreams and come to find each other again along the way.
Writer-director Eugene Ashe was inspired to create Sylvie’s Love when he saw old photographs of his own family from the 1950’s. “Seeing the way they carried themselves with such dignity, I wanted to create a love story that showed the sacrifices and tribulations of true love.”
Ashe certainly delivers, for there are many obstacles put in the way of Sylvie and Robert – husbands, oceans, and the pursuit of one’s creative passion. And yet, the film takes an intriguing departure from the period it recreates so well; in an era marked by the civil rights movement, it is barely in the background. Instead, the issue of the day is gender and how expectations of women obstruct Sylvie’s ambitions to become a producer.
Though the film is set in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Sylvie and Robert’s love story is not burdened by the heaviness and violence of Jim Crow racism. In this, there is a radical optimism – Ashe gifts the black spectator the ability to travel back in time, without fear of trauma, to enjoy the to and fro of two lovers trying to make it work.
As much as it is about love, the film is also about music. Set against the rich history of Motown’s rise in Detroit’s jazz scene, music brings Sylvie and Robert together time and again: from their meet-cute in the record store to a Nancy Wilson concert years later. It is also what forces them apart, as Robert and his band chase their dreams. The film’s composer, Fabrice Lecomte, was asked to write original music for Robert’s quartet and the resulting score is exquisite, creating a soundscape that instantly evokes the jazz greats of the 50’s and 60’s.
With complimentary vision, costume designer Phoenix Mellow also captures the spirit of the period with noticeable inspiration from Audrey Hepburn, Sydney Poitier, John Coltrane, and vintage Chanel (eagle-eyed fashion historians will note quite a few of Thompson’s looks are taken from the Chanel archive).
Elegant costuming goes hand in hand with the director’s lens, as Ashe creates beautiful stills that are sure to be instant classics. Robert and Sylvie slow dancing in the street at night. Sylvie watching Robert through the back window of a cab. The dedication to detail is a testament to the sheer amount of period and genre research needed to compose these breathtaking moments.
Unfortunately, the only thing about Sylvie’s Love which isn’t a sweeping success is the script. Cringey, and a little drama-by-numbers, the story’s beats and cues felt predictable. That’s not to say Sylvie’s Love isn’t enjoyable – it has a brilliant cast and is utterly beautiful in the way it’s designed and shot. The fantasy of Sylvie and Robert’s romance simply wasn’t completely convincing, which proves that a good romance story is far harder than people give romance writers credit for.
All in all, Sylvie’s Love is a gorgeous film lovingly made by a team with a clear vision of the story it wants to tell. A welcome addition to the genre of romance and period drama.
Sylvie’s Love premieres on Amazon Prime Wednesday 23rd December 2020.