“A tender, wise, and perceptive story that is so immersive to experience and take in.”
by Ken Bakely
Of the many wonderful things about Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature, A Love Song, chief among them is how it just lets its main characters be. It doesn’t demand that they become someone else by the end of the story or change in ways that don’t make sense. It presents a few open threads, and it neatly ties all of them in a delicate but intricate symmetry. Set in the open stretches of Colorado, Walker-Silverman’s script focuses on Faye (Dale Dickey), a woman who lives out of a camper. She is about to head off to new pastures from her current site, but is awaiting the arrival of Lito (Wes Studi), a friend and almost-partner from many decades ago who has written to her and asked to meet. They are no longer the people they were then – they have lived their own lives, been married, been widowed – but that makes the possibilities and potential of this meeting all the more profound and more unknowable going in. And yet, it’s all a part of an ongoing story that makes up Faye’s life, with this visit balanced between conversations with a horse-riding mail carrier, a couple on another campsite considering marriage, and a family who inquires about when she will leave the site, as they want to move their late father’s remains there. There is certainly a priority to who this is about, but this is also so much about examining a slice of this woman’s life. It’s easy to believe that was there long before we met her, and she will remain long after.
This movie is not about the reveals, the surprises, or even the intricacies of the plotting: A Love Song asks gentle questions and makes open observations about the passage of time and the power of connection, and lets them linger. Dale Dickey is quietly magnificent in the lead role, wordlessly conveying the complexities and interiority of Faye’s life on the road. When there is dialogue, Dickey delivers spare lines with great meaning. Every word feels chosen in the way that someone might carefully select them, and every one counts. When Studi’s Lito arrives, he brings similar gravitas and meaning to his character, and together, they are wonderful. Their scenes are heartrending and melodic, telling of connection and separation, of loss and resolve. There will be no grand gestures for Faye and Lito. There shouldn’t be; they don’t need that. There’s a longing and mournfulness that they bring from their own lives and experiences, but this is not a film that elects to be sad in a self-appointed, dramatic way. Quite the contrary: Walker-Silverman lets you luxuriate in the individual interactions of his characters and the rhythms of their world, with spontaneous humor and lilting melancholy casually and naturally extant, always ready to come into view, as they are through the mundanities of real life.
This extends all throughout the film’s ethos. There are these extraordinary shots peppered throughout A Love Song that show Faye out in the vast nature that surrounds her, against brilliant vistas and breathtaking night skies. But they are not there merely as nonsequiturs or to show off the setting; Alfonso Herrera Salcedo’s cinematography shoots these images with purpose and poise. Everything here is in service of greater perspective, seeing the character almost quite literally through her worldview, in a way that provides a meditative way to understand what she’s seeing and feeling – and, again, doing so without a word spoken, showing remarkable economy on the movie’s part.
A Love Song understands the value of brevity in many senses, though perhaps there is sometimes an inkling that since otherwise it takes so long – which is not itself a bad thing – to find its bearings and really let us take in its approach, it doesn’t get to spend enough time there in only 81 minutes. There’s a desire to explore and investigate a little longer, but on the other hand, it doesn’t feel overly detrimental since it is always so present to begin with. It never spends time searching for what to say. It just lets you see it. This is a tender, wise, and perceptive story that is so immersive to experience and take in. A telling example comes from an otherwise peripheral detail. Diegetic music comes in the form of Faye’s radio, which casually soundtracks a scene with a fitting folk song whenever she switches it on, and in the last cue, leading out of a simple and sweet final scene, it becomes non-diegetic and takes over the sound mix. This is not an unusual approach, but there’s something to be said about the effect here. It brings us into the end credits as if we’re coming up to the surface, above water. This is a movie so organically good at putting us with its characters in its setting, that it’s almost startling when it comes to a completely natural end.