Sundance 2020: Eugene Ashe's Lovely Jazz Romance 'Sylvie's Love'
by Alex Billington
February 3, 2020
It's always a sweet delight to discover a romance that gives you the chills thanks to its immeasurable charm and expressions of love. Sylvie's Love is one of those great discoveries, a classical romantic drama set in the 1950s in New York City that despite a conventional plot is still a lovely film worth swooning over. This indie romantic drama just premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, screening in the US Dramatic Competition section, and it should connect most with viewers who appreciate old school romance from the 1950s. The cinematography is exceptional, the jazz soundtrack is really wonderful. Most of all, it's going to be a calling card for a tremendously talented filmmaker - Eugene Ashe. It's his break out moment, despite being his second film, an exemplary example of how he can capture a mood and true love for the big screen.
Sylvie's Love is both written and directed by Eugene Ashe (follow his first film Homecoming in 2012), and it features a exquisite score by Fabrice Lecomte. Set in the late 1950s, and spanning into the 1960s, the films tells the story of a young woman named Sylvie - played by Tessa Thompson. She loves watching TV shows, and works with her dad at his record store, with dreams of working on television. One day she meets Robert, played by former All-Pro NFL defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha, a tender jazz musician. They don't fall in love right away, but there is an obvious, palpable connection. Star-crossed lovers, as we often call them. Through ups and downs, break ups and hook ups, they learn that love will stand the test of time when everything else doesn't. It's ever so wonderful to watch them get swept up by love time and time again.
Part of what makes this film so appealing and endearing is that it truly is a classic 50s romance. The way it's shot, and especially the script and dialogue, is meant to make it feel like it was actually made in the 50s. The conversations are all simple, a bit too simple, coming across on-the-nose and a little corny at times. But it works its charm anyway, and if you let yourself get swept away by love like the two of them in this story, it's a heartwarming experience. It's not so much melodramatic as it is stilted dialogue, and it's easy to see how this might bother some. But it didn't bother me. There are a few important scenes that aren't as emotional as they could be, but ultimately it's about the feeling they have for each other, and that's a feeling everyone should be able to sense about Sylvia & Robert. Their connection is potent, always drawn toward each other.
It's so rare to see a story like this anymore, its existence is something of a miracle to begin with. A ravishing, stylish, beautiful film, filled with so much soulful music. Robert is a saxophone player, and while we don't necessarily get to hear too much of his playing, we do get to hear plenty of the jazz songs of the era and the music that inspires him, and Sylvie. The songs fly by fast, like a friend tossing vinyl on a record player in your bedroom, picking their jazz favorites from the 50s and 60s. The scenes are short but the film has heart and that's what matters the most. And it's a story about a black woman giving herself a chance to thrive in her own career, something she loves doing, without giving it all up for any man. It's not often we see a film with this kind of lovely story, which makes it all the more worthy of watching whenever it shows near you.