AFI Fest 2020 Review: A Romance Takes Time in Angel Kristi Williams’ Seductive “Really Love”

“If you ever want to pause for a moment, maybe we could do this again,” Isaiah (Kofi Siriboe) tells Stevie (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing) walking her home from the club, a second encounter that confirms that suspicions from their first at an art gallery that something special may be brewing between them in “Really Love.” The attraction is strong enough to make it seem as though time stands still, yet Isaiah knows Stevie’s pursuit of a career in the law is likely to leave little time for a relationship and he has his own professional aspirations as a painter, making the moment as dangerous as far as emotions are concerned as it is enthralling.

What develops between the two is precious, but perhaps not more so than time in Angel Kristin Williams’ intelligently observed romance, watching Isaiah and Stevie never really question their feelings towards one another, but wonder about where they fit into each other’s lives. Both have high expectations for themselves — not to mention their parents — when they first meet with Isaiah eager to have his work exhibited and Stevie finishing out her time at Georgetown awaiting offers from firms to take her on as an associate. Those concerns about the future seem to be quickly set aside when infatuation takes over, but in fact, both are talented enough to take notice of and while Isaiah starts to be pulled away by the promise of his first solo show, Stevie’s work threatens to take her from DC to Chicago when an offer from her dream employer emerges.

Given the significant amount of heat generated by Wong-Loi-Sing and Siriboe, it’s impressive that Williams and co-writer Felicia Pride make it believable that the relationship may not be meant to be, letting the outside world in at choice moments to illuminate the responsibility to themselves that they feel when the opportunities in front of them may not have been there a generation before and the desire to make their parents proud, even when they may not see eye to eye about what their purpose is. As much as you want to see Isaiah and Stevie together, the film respects how much the two grow individually through building their respective careers, with the filmmakers’ personal investment likely showing in the extra attention paid to Isaiah’s rise as an artist, getting advice from his mentor Yusuf (a sage Michael Ealy) preaching patience.

Adding to the credibility of the whole endeavor are the genuinely exciting paintings courtesy of real-life artist Gerald Lovell that really do look like the work of someone on the verge of being discovered, and Williams is every bit as considerate in each of her brushstrokes, giving a real sensuality and tactility to the love story. Shawn Peters’ cinematography revels in deep blacks to give the color and the light that break through a sense of power and Khari Mateen’s versatile score appropriately accompanying an ever-evolving relationship where a solo sax can be relied upon to reflect a wandering mind. In a film where love is reflected in how much time Isaiah and Stevie give to one another, “Really Love” makes every passion-filled frame count.

“Really Love” does not yet have U.S. distribution.