CHENNAI: Emotional but not melodramatic, strong on performance yet subtle, “Sylvie’s Love,” now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is all about dreams and desires, hope and despair.
Eugene Ashe’s second feature (the first was “Homecoming”) is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s and follows a love story that is hard to forget — it is as tearful as it is joyful and, refreshingly, focuses on an African-American pair in a period when the community faced unimaginable hurdles.
There are sighs and tears, but the work does not, even for a moment, drown the viewer in sorrow with a remarkable Tessa Thompson playing the heart-warming role of Sylvie Parker. Even in her angry moments, she maintains dignity and decorum displaying a fantastic emotive range in the course of a little under two hours of run time.
Nnamdi Asomugha is her love interest, Robert Halloway, a little stiff but he pushes his point of view well enough to be convincing.
The story opens in New York. It is 1962, and Sylvie is waiting outside a concert hall. She anxiously asks the doorman if the show has begun. In a few minutes, he says. It is at this moment that she spots Robert, and memories come flooding back as Ashe, who is also the writer, rewinds the narrative to 1957 when we see Sylvie watching “I Love Lucy” on a small black-and-white box of a television set in her father’s gramophone record shop.
On the window, is a wanted help sign, and Robert walking by spots Sylvie and steps in on the pretext of buying a record. I could work here he tells her pointing to the signboard. But while she tries putting him off, her father steps in and hires him.
This is the beginning of a beautiful romance, but though each is attracted to the other, she is already engaged to be married to the son of a wealthy doctor, which adds a healthy dose of tension to the plot, which is not a predictable love story at all.
Hesitant glances, stolen caresses, and waltzing under streetlamps, the two make for a magical pair on screen. Brilliant angles and soft lighting all take this piece of at-home cinema to new heights.
And these thoughtful touches are not limited to the visuals — Robert is a budding saxophone player and elements of jazz are woven beautifully into the film.
Do they make love stories of this kind these days? I wonder. In a very neoclassical style, Ashe gives us a plot that is, despite its languid pace, so gripping it will leave most viewers wanting more.
The movie is sincere, exploring the simplicity of life and love, as well as the complicated curveballs life can throw at us.