Cinema Review: Lovers Rock [NYFF 2020] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, September 29th, 2023  

Lovers Rock [NYFF 2020]

Studio: Amazon Studios/BBC
Directed by Steve McQueen

Sep 18, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Lovers Rock – the second in the five-part Small Axe anthology series from director Steve McQueen – kicks off this year’s New York Film Festival. Set almost entirely within the confines of a West London house in 1980, the 68-minute film centers around Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and her relationship with a stranger she meets (Michael Ward) at a house party. The two dance and bond over the background noise of “lovers rock” tunes, a style of reggae music that garnered major focus in 1970s and 80s London. They grow closer and closer to each other – as Martha faces instances of racism, sexism, and intimacy along the way.

Much like his previous work, such as 2018’s wonderful Widows, McQueen operates with subtlety behind the camera. The film moves at a slow pace, giving viewers time to process and internalize the unfolding of events. The camerawork is especially striking during the slow-dance scenes, as McQueen utilizes close-ups and intimate shots to exhibit Martha and the stranger’s affection towards each other.

These skillful subtleties don’t stop with the camerawork. McQueen’s exploration of Lovers Rock’s social commentary underscores the whole film. In multiple scenes, racial slurs being hollered at the main characters can be heard. In another scene, the passing of a police car causes the bouncer outside the party to panic, inadvertently allowing an unwanted character inside the house. While the episode’s exploration of these concepts is not at the forefront of what drives the plot, the idea of the racism and prejudice the main characters face is always present. This creates an unsettling feeling for the viewer as the film progresses.

While the deliberate pacing gives Lovers Rock an edge over other anthologies, it also requires commitment and patience on the part of the viewer. There is little that happens. The first half is focused on building the narrative. The second half is mainly multiple long takes of people dancing to reggae with little dialogue. Regardless, between St. Aubyn’s and Ward’s chemistry and McQueen’s direction, there is always something happening on-screen to keep viewers interested.

With Lovers Rock, McQueen has once again proved that he is a director and screenwriter who understands the power of intimacy, both between the characters and between the characters and the audience. The powerful use of close-ups, the hum of the music in the background, and the directorial techniques employed keep audiences consistently engaged.

A love story at its core, Lovers Rock is an engrossing journey into exploring a culture through music, dialogue, and relationships.


Author rating: 6.5/10

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