NYFF Notes: Lovers Rock
Lovers Rock opened the 58th NYFF, though I saw an encore screening a couple of weeks later. Lovers Rock is part of Steve McQueen's five-part Small Axe series which will stream on Amazon Prime starting in November. Compared to McQueen's previous, more solemn films like 12 Years a Slave Hunger, Shame, and Widows, Lovers Rock is a joyous affair, and my favorite film of all that I watched at NYFF.
Lovers Rock takes place over one night, and follows Martha who sneaks out of her window to go to a West London house party with a group of friends. The movie swirls around a large cast of primarily Black-Carribean characters as the prep for the party, dance the night away, link up with dance and/or romantic partners, and depart at dawn.
Over the course of the night the party presents a multi-faceted look at the Black experience encapsulated in this one evening. It's mostly joyous, filled with dancing and drinking and celebrating, all to the sound track of classic Reggae and Caribbean music from the 60's and 70s'. But while the movie focuses primarily on dancing and romance, it also focuses on dangers lurking in and out of the party. Inside the party, young men fueled by alcohol rage at their situations and attempt sexual assault. Outside, white cops and racist young men lurk, waiting to stir up trouble.
Despite these potential threats, most of the movie focuses on the music and the sensuality and excitement it creates in the dancers. They touch, caress, and grind. Later they jump and mosh. All the while they soak in the music, soak in the joy, and live completely swept in the moment. It's a testament to so much of the Black Experience, whether in the West London of the movie or today, that there's so much focus on joy of the moment despite the pressure and oppression that seems inescapable.
The movie is beautifully shot, making the small dance floor on the second floor of the house feel like a heavenly club. The touch, the gestures, and the dance movies are composed and edited perfectly creating a sense of communal experience unfolding on just another Saturday night. The soundtrack is wondrous, and hopefully will get a release.
Given the constant struggles and darkness of 2020, Lovers Rock provides a joyous celebration, reminding us of what some great groves and a dance floor can do to lift the spirit and make life worth living, at least for a moment.