Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2021 7:41 am 
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Young blood

At the center of the warm circle of this little film is Maya, a 39-year-old black woman living in Brooklyn stifled by complicated memories of her overbearing father and on the verge of becoming a recluse, who is drawn into a sexual relationship with Kaseem, a man 17 years her junior. She is zaftig, which he calls "thick", and he finds that sexy. As she yields to his advances she finds her world coming to life. She has been toying with a a website about women with unfashionable bodies, clearly a subtext of this film. She has some money, and has retreated into her comfortable, nicely decorated brownstone apartment. Kaseem, nenwly a Muslim, a self-declared "work in progress," is flint-stone and fire, full of passionate kisses, strong opinions, and multiple, if vague "projects." Shomari Love, who plays Kaseem, delivers dashing line readings that make the dialogue spring to vivid life. Ashanti J'Aria, as Maya, is soft, knowing, a little ironic. She could be older than 39, but it's clear how her "thick"-ness could feel attractive and enveloping to the young man.

This is a passion project for Nicole Sylvester, who has been in the movie business for a while but only now taken the plunge to direct her own feature, gathering all the funds she could and filming a story that's not too far from home, indeed shooting most of the action literally in her hot Brooklyn apartment in the middle of a New York summer. She has spoken of the vulnerability she had to muster to write a script that was quite personal. Though the frankness of the sex and some of the language is modern, the story is basically old fashioned. As often happens one wonders whether, unless some profound Freudian message is intended, the flashbacks, mostly to the controlling father when Maya was a girl, are really necessary. All the life is in the present-day dialogue. We could have seen more of Kaseem. But maybe more would have been too much.

Anyone who has had a lover 17 years younger knows the dynamics here. Two people on totally different wavelengths. Kaseem throws an original additional monkey wrench into the love machine when he declares that he is now celibate and wants henceforth to be friends who help each other. He appreciates her education and her wisdom as an "old lady." (The film is not without its welcome moments of humor.) He claims he is a whiz with software and can help her with her web page and incidentally help him buy a laptop. Maybe so, but Maya feels Kaseem is too rough to meet her niece or her best girl friend. Then one day Maya talks to an older man who knows Kaseem and finds out a series of truths about him that he has chosen to conceal from her and she kicks him out.

That is the essence of the story and the incidents that follow feel less essential and more random. Later Kaseem reappears for a brief friendly reunion and he makes good on some of his promises. The main thing seems to be that Maya is sadder, wiser, but also revivified. Sylvester's wise screenplay etches these characters lovingly but honestly. The best moments are in the early interchanges between Maya, her best friend (Faiven Feshazion), and Kaseem when the humor bubbles and the sparks fly. Even if only briefly, these people seem totally real. A promising debut for Nicole Sylvester, who has made something that lives out of what she knows.

Maya and Her Lover, 106 mins., debuted in Nov. 2021 in the American Black Film Festival (Miami). It will be released on digital by 1091 Pictures on Dec. 7.

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