Sylvie’s Love, the new Amazon Studios film starring Tessa Thompson, is a classic romantic drama with a harmonious atmosphere. Director/writer Eugene Ashe delicately portrays this tender, period love story with immersive jazzy compositions and gorgeous cinematography that instantly places you in the 1960s. The elegant style is just one reason to catch this beautiful film, which essentially is an escapist fantasy of love found, separated, and reclaimed.
Thompson is poised with a longing spirit for independence and affection. When she sets her sights on the charismatic saxophonist Robert, there is little to do but escape into the dimly lit dance floor and gaze in awe as she eases into his arms and allows herself to be swept away. Sylvie’s Love is unapologetically concerned with romance, ambition, and creating an old Hollywood-style lusciousness for this on-again, off-again couple.
In late 1950s New York, Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) works at her father’s record store, if only just to watch the television. Her fiancé is in Korea, and she spends her days listening to records and sunbathing on the rooftop with her best friend Mona (Aja Naomi King). That is until saxophonist Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) enters the store looking for a job. Sylvie initially tries to dissuade him, but her father, Mr. Jay (Lance Reddick), offers him a job. Sylvie and Robert connect in the record store, at one of his concerts, and later at a friend’s party.
After frequent interactions, they dissolve into a more profound infatuation than just a passing gaze. Though her fiancé Lacy Parker (Alano Miller) is still overseas, Sylvie and Robert’s romance heats up. That is before his band gets an opportunity to play in Paris, thanks to the support of the band’s new manager, the Countess (Jemima Kirke).
The film was released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, and Ashe was quoted as saying that he wanted to make a film where black people exist through love and not in adversity. This is perfectly demonstrated in Sylvie’s ambition to become a television producer, something rare for a black woman at that time. Still, through her determination, she finds her way forward. Her determination and understanding of her self-worth force Sylvie’s immediate boss Kate Spencer (Ryan Michelle Bathe), to even give her a chance.
The affection between Sylvie and Robert is as much to do with how they look at each other as it is with the words they say. There’s a mysterious force between Thompson and Asomugha that grounds this relationship in both realism and truth.
Early in the film, Robert walks Sylvie home after a late-night performance, and as she climbs the steps to her house, Robert waits below, hoping for a kiss goodbye. She scoffs at the suggestion, her fiancé an impending obstacle, but she relents. Robert bolts up the stairs with bounding energy, and the magnitude of the moment is sumptuous. If there wasn’t a belief that these two belonged together from their first kiss, then the film wouldn’t have been successful.
It’s the combination of exquisite production design by Mayne Berke and Declan Quinn’s cinematography that enables this film to feel authentically within the world of these two lovers as life continues forward. Through pregnancy, separation, and even fleeting happenstance encounters outside a theater, it’s refreshing to be transported to another world and glide along with the notes of flirtation and desire.