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“Lovers Rock” Film Review | NYFF 2020

Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock is the opening night film at New York Film Festival. I remember when this was announced, Film Twitter couldn’t control themselves! I even found myself wondering what side of McQueen to expect. Undoubtedly a talented and multi-faceted director that has shown his versatility numerous times.

I knew exactly what side we were getting less than ten seconds into the film. Before even seeing a character I was transported by the cinematography back to 12 Years a Slave. It’s a testament to his style and shows he is a director who has a signature.

What can I say about Lovers Rock?

Surely that it is beautifully captured by Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner. The tones and light on display enamor its audience as we are taken through this “night-in-the-life-of” tale. The visuals here are nothing short of intoxicating and truly give you a glimpse of self-actualized joy and release in a way we have never seen. To know OF segregation and exclusion is one thing, but to see it is something else altogether.

For some, this film will serve as nostalgia, either exact or similar to self experience. Perhaps from hearing stories from your grandparents or parents? For me nostalgia came simply from the type of gathering. I was a Puerto Rican boy growing up in New York. Too poor to ever consider going to a club. Drinks were too expensive and, if you happened to save up to afford a few, the cab home would leave a sizable dent that would make you wonder if it was worth it.

So, people threw house parties, not dissimilar to the one we see here in Lovers Rock. Though in my time the DJ had a laptop with a digital spin table on it. People dancing. Guys and gals on the prowl, taking chances on the dance floor, hoping to dance with a pretty girl and praying not to be embarrassed by one.

What we did not have in these parties though were entrepreneurs who made incredible food, like goat curry with rice, and sold it to hungry party-goers. I would have much rather spent my money there than overpriced club drinks. I love how these ladies were captured. Singing and laughing while making a killer meal! That brought me back to holidays in PR. I will say, I wish we had shown more of this throughout the party. We almost forgot about it once it all started.

Our actors here were excellent! It was great seeing Kedar Williams-Sterling in something outside of Netflix’s Sex Education. Don’t get me wrong, I love that show but in it I saw how talented this kid is and immediately started looking forward to his breakout role. This project brings him one step closer to that. Mark my words, that guy’s going to be doing big things soon!

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her stunning screen debut in this. She keeps your attention every second she is on screen and she is able to maneuver through the scenes with great ease as do many of the other cast members.

If I can pick one gripe with the performances it’s that the accents seemed very inconsistent. To such a point that I wondered if it was on purpose. Perhaps it was…

In truth, though I did appreciate the aforementioned elements of this film, I did not fall in love with Lovers Rock. I found myself hoping for more narrative. There was a powerful scene well into the film in the backyard that made me feel like what we have been waiting for finally arrived… but it passes by all too quickly, never to return. Now it may be me. Preference, if you will. I am not a fan of “…in the day/week/year/life of” stories. Too often I found myself wondering what Steve McQueen was trying to tell us. Wondering who the story was ABOUT? Where are we going?

As I mentioned, there IS beauty here… as there is beauty in a field of flowers… doesn’t mean I want to stare at it for an hour.

Despite this, I still look forward to the other four installments in the Small Axe mini-series.

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By Raul Navedo

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