Sing To Me Sylvie


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Sing To Me Sylvie
"The style is very much fly on the wall. Except, I could not imagine any documentary maker hanging around for hours and hours of this stuff. Let alone any self-respecting fly."

Sing to Me Sylvie is based on a simple enough premise. Ten years ago, Sylvie tried – and failed – to get her music career off the ground. Then, out of the blue she runs into former bandmate David, who is now busking and living in a tent on the streets of Portland. She offers him a place to stay for three days while her husband is away.

Sounds promising? Yes. Does it deliver? No. Thirty minutes in and I am still waiting for something – anything! - interesting to happen. Sure, I get the concept of a slow burner, building atmosphere through seemingly banal and unconnected detail. But this is taking banality to a whole new level.

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In this time we have had Sylvie (Jannette Bloom) and David (Christopher Kozak) meeting. A couple of indifferent musical interludes. And conversation about nothing. And wallpaper. And coffee. And...all the trivia you expect two people who've not met for 10 years to explore when they do get together again. Matters are not helped by fact that the point where Sylvie reignites conversation with busker Dave is in a bar with a relatively loud soundtrack over the top, which meant I was left straining to hear.

Plus second rate undergrad philosophy about how evil religion is and how we are all interconnected at some fundamental level. Is this significant? Maybe. Do I care?

It also doesn't help that this is a film seemingly obsessed with conversation. So it starts in a bar. Then proceeds to “Apartment. Interior, by night.” Then over the breakfast table. The style is very much fly on the wall. Except, I could not imagine any documentary maker hanging around for hours and hours of this stuff. Let alone any self-respecting fly.

Then more over pastries, and an exotic musical instrument. It appears to be an electronic xylophone. Briefly my interest is piqued. But all too soon they are off to a park bench to continue talking.

We are half way through before Sylvie discovers a piano – one of those random pianos that authorities now dot around the streets with an invitation to “play me” and briefly, the film lifts. Not just for the music, but for the emotions that playing clearly provokes in her.

Yay! She can play. But playing bring with it inner demons. So she stops and it is back to banality.

It's all very clever. I think. At least it's clever if the purpose of the intense longueurs at the start are intended to draw the viewer in and distract them while building up for the inevitable shock disclosure later on. After all, under-statement, and long periods of nothing happening are used to great effect by the likes of Sergio Leone; and when the silence stops, you just know that the next thing that will happen is someone is going to get shot.

But films need to do more than be clever. They need to entertain and to engage. I want to be drawn in by something. There is some interesting camerawork, clearly the result of someone who cares about visual imagery. A purple cross adorns a tree. There's an intriguing colour scheme in Sylvie's bedroom: blue on one half, white on the side she sleeps. Does it mean something? Anything?

Possibly. As the film further unrolls, the elephant in the room slowly reveals itself, in the form of Sylvie's life and husband. A conventional guy that she is in love with but...she still has yearnings for the alternative life. So the heart of the film is revealed. It's a long elliptical conversation about how following your heart in one direction can lead to disappointment in another.

Or maybe it's the story of someone who yearns to “be creative” but lacks the conviction to live the life.

It's a worthy conversation, cleverly constructed by Jannette Bloom, who, in addition to taking the lead role is also writer and director. That's both heavy responsibility and risk. Because if your creative vision goes astray, as it seems to, here, there is no-one else on board to bring you back to earth.

I am reminded of an editor for whom I once worked. “It's very worthy, jane”, was always his way of preparing me for disappointment; his way of saying i'd written a thing that ought to be worth reading. But would go whoosh! over the head of the average reader.

Sadly, this feels like what has happened here. Then it ends, on a dramatic high, just not justified by all that went before. Too late! Too little.

Reviewed on: 15 Sep 2021
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Sing To Me Sylvie packshot
Ten years after a failed music career a woman runs into her former bandmate and offers him a place to stay while her husband is away, forcing them to confront their past.

Director: Jannette Bloom

Writer: Jannette Bloom

Starring: Jannette Bloom, Christopher Kozak, Marie Fiorillo, Jessica Spotts, Robert William Brown, Brice Clagett, Stephanie Quan, Sam Johnson, Valerie Limbrunner-Bartlett

Year: 2021

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US


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