Review: "A Love Song"
A Love Song is a study in minimalism sustained by an understated, deeply authentic performance by veteran Dale Dickey and stunning natural scenery. The film is less a character study and more a meditation on time – how we spend it, how we remember it and how it passes us by. Writer-director Max Walker-Silverman and cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo express the theme through symmetrical storytelling and shots, lingering on moments and settings with focus and intentionality.
Faye is a 65-year-old widow who seems to subsist on cheap beer and caught crayfish while living alone out of a camper by a lake. At first, all that we learn about her comes from observations – her hand, with wedding ring, seemingly surprised to find the pillow next to her empty each morning; a bookshelf of just two books – stargazing and birdwatching; the context that she’s waiting for someone, though we don’t yet know who, when or why.
Twenty minutes into the movie, a dinner with two neighboring campers reveals a few more details about Faye, including her name, her Forest Service career, and her purpose at the campsite. When the man she’s waiting for finally appears, the two pick up the conversation as if they’d seen each other yesterday – though the memories they’re connecting about happened exactly 50 years prior.
The two characters likewise seem stuck in the past – both trapped in grief over the loss of their spouses and perhaps also detained by their age and station in life. Neither seems to own a cell phone, Faye listens to an ancient battery-operated radio (that provides the conduit for much of the film’s folksy-country soundtrack) and both appear to live a remarkably loner existence.
Over the course of the story, Faye evolves from a lonely widow waiting out the days to an empowered woman who climbs mountains and takes confidently to the road and her future. It’s a transformation that comes through a series of small moments. In that sense, A Love Song feels tailor-made for Dickey, much the way it’s hard to imagine anyone but Frances McDormand in the not dissimilar role of Fern in Nomadland.
The deep crevices of Dickey’s weathered face are an unusual sight in motion pictures, and they underscore the character’s lived experience. The camera spends a lot of time close up on her, allowing Dickey to bring Faye to life in small gestures and looks. She seems unsure, forlorn and a little lost through much, but not all, of the film. The true love she’s grieving can’t be artificially replaced, but she realizes it was worth the time they had, even despite the pain.
A Love Song is loosely organized into four parts, split at the halfway mark by, appropriately enough, a love song performed by Dickey and co-star Wes Studi, the Native American actor who plays her charmingly apprehensive long-lost love interest, Lito. The tale is bookended by largely dialogue-free opening and closing segments, where Faye and her natural surroundings are the sole focus.
These feel symbolic: they fit with her description of being too lonely to speak while grieving her husband, and they embody Faye’s and Lito’s confessed family connections to the land. Likewise, the stunning scenery is captured in lovingly unhurried shots at various times of the day including some memorable, and perhaps symbolic, sunsets. The framing of the landscape is often noticeably symmetrical, which underscores a subtle but profound tranquility.
This review originally ran on The Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
Image courtesy of Bleecker Street.