Sylvie’s Love (2020)

“You’re not ordinary to me.”

Sylvie’s Love feels like the kind of rare, finely aged, backroom bottle you’d have to ask a sommelier to bring to the table instead of the customary cheap red or drab and dry white that’s usually offered to every patron. It’s a rarified affair, like something unearthed from an entirely different era. You can taste, smell, literally see the difference in quality, and it’s such an exquisite and elegant experience from start to finish. It’s a damn shame that Amazon dumped this movie on their streaming platform before the new year with such little promotion. It’s a lovely, charming, absolute gem of a picture.

The structure of the film immediately invites us in and poses questions we know will be answered along the journey. Nothing out of the ordinary ever really happens, but the characters are the real magical component here, finally showing us a Golden Era romance through the black perspective. Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) stands alone outside a theater while waiting for the recipient of her other ticket, she spots Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asougha), and the two long lost lovers immediately lock eyes. Sylvie’s Love cuts to 5 years prior right after this connection, giving us a proper entry point to this vacillating love story, and it’s as easy and as breezy as a walk through Central Park or the streets of Harlem. They’re drawn to each other. But as is typically the case, love has a way of planting a seed in the right place at the wrong time. Or at least we tend to see it in that light. So do they. This relationship takes work.

Robert is a self-taught saxophonist and a Jazz player inspired by the greats, never lacking for his own style or self-confidence. It’s no wonder Sophie doesn’t fall in love at first sight, yet so visually falls in love at first listen. Sophie knows music; her family does own a record store after all and her ears play no tricks. But her ambitions lie in the landscape of television, and the beauty of this timeless romance comes from two completely enraptured individuals trying to explain – through slow talks and open conversation – how they’re both right. He should be the breadwinner and she should adhere to gender roles. She’s proven herself successful and he should play his part. It’s all confusing and muddled by the politics of the time. Such thinking inevitably leads to a feeling of being wronged on both sides, making Sylvie’s Love a film about regret and persistent hopefulness.

It almost seems too reductive to call this one a modern mix of La La Land’s jazz ambitions and The Notebook’s almost annoyingly cloying sentimentality. But those are the two obvious comparisons that leap to mind, and that’s before even considering that writer/director Eugene Ashe has made a classic 50’s era romance filtered through a technicolor field and finally told from the black perspective. It’s pretty simple, classic storytelling, propelled by lead characters of color, and their perspective lends the familiarity of the script new liberties altogether. Sylvie’s Love made me think about all the people who never got the opportunity to see themselves fall in love on screen, and it’s an incredible homage to cinema at its most romantic. It’s about damn time.

“Life’s too short to waste time on things you don’t absolutely love.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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