NYFF58–“Lovers Rock”

Opening Night for the New York Film Festival 58. Daniel Lim, Head of Programming said in the Q&A, “we have no Opening Night Party this year, but instead, we have an Opening Night film that IS a party”. There was a press talk with the Director Steve McQueen, and stars: Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn & Micheal Ward on Lovers Rock and a pre-recorded Introduction and follow-up Q&A. Some intrepid film lovers got to see the 68-minute film on the big screen at the Drive-In in Queens or The Bronx. My first experience of #NYFF58, I choose the virtual route to see Lovers Rock.

Queing up right at 8pm, the film streamed pretty seamlessly. There were two slight pauses as Lovers Rock buffered but not enought time to grab a snack! I’m hoping that the next time I see this film, I remember to have Close Captioning on. The dialect of Jamaican British slang was fast and furious and often incomprehensible to me. This is not a film where the dialogue is of great importance though; this is a film for your senses.

Irresistible … Michael Ward and Amarah-Jae St Aubyn in Lovers Rock. Photograph: Parisa Taghizadeh/BBC/McQueen Limited

Set in 80’s West London, this is one of the five films in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series. McQueen is celebrating the West Indies culture that has been absent from our historical context. Three of the films are playing at the NYFF and the rest will debut on BBC One later in the Fall.

Opening with young black men sweating as they move furniture and haul huge speakers and amps into a house. There is a slow realization that this is going to be a house party. Women, singing together, are cooking in the kitchen wearing head scarves. Upstairs, two gals are dancing as they primp and laugh–trying on each other’s lipstick and dressing up. There’s an excitement building; an anticipation of a Big Night.

Director Steven McQueen takes us right into the action. We watch a young woman climbing out her window to sneak off to the party. Meeting up with her friend, giddy with excitement, they race for the bus. Following them into the house, we become a guest at the party. The camera swoops and twirls like one of the dancers, lingering on gestures, focusing on the a lingering look, a drag of a cigarette, the passing of a joint and getting up close to the bumb and grind. The story is told thru the outlandish wallpaper design, the handmade dresses and the peacock finery of the men’s suits. The djs serve up the soundtrack of 80’s soul, funk, and reggae with the actors sometimes singing acapella as if they can’t let the music go.

What plot there is, revolves around a young couple getting to know each other, tentatively, then as they dance, making a sultry connection. The camera lingers on couples pressing up against the wall or sneaking off into the shadows. Not all attention is recipricated and one woman has to be rescued. The outside world intrudes in the racist comments and monkey sounds hurled at a woman leaving and in the scolding one man gets from his boss, calling him “boy”. Yet the overall feeling is one of celebration. The joy of a new infatuation, the joy of letting loose with your friends, the abandon of dance and thrill of amorous touch.

Drinks With Films rating: 🍺🍺 Red Stripe Jamaican beers (out of 5)

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