' ' Cinema Romantico: A Love Song

Monday, February 27, 2023

A Love Song

Set entirely in and around a western Colorado campground, the scenery of “A Love Song” is striking. But Max Walker-Silverman, who directed, wrote, and co-edited (with Affonso Gonçalves), is not content with simple painterly landscapes. He has ideas of space and how his main character, widowed 60-something Faye (Dale Dickey), who is staying in her small camper van alongside a picturesque lake, fits into it. In wide shots, as Faye goes about catching crawdads in the lake, boiling them, and eating them for supper at a card table perched along the edge of the water, she looks at home, like those Eden-esque opening passages of “A Thin Red Line” reconceptualized for a Guy Clark song, or something. In close-ups, though, and medium shots inside that cramped camper, something feels more amiss, brought home in how Dickey fills those shots out with expressions of uncertainty, pangs of loneliness. This is the opposite of how we usually consider such shots, wide ones epitomizing isolation and close ones, intimacy. Despite the audience’s intimacy with Faye in close-ups, those worn, weathered lines of Dickey’s face merely magnify her emergent predicament, of time passing, of the challenge in finding inner peace the closer to yourself you get. “A Love Song” isn’t mainstream in terms of budget but it isn’t really a hardscrabble kind of indie either, less interested, nay, not interested at all in the social undertones of a nomad lifestyle a la “Nomadland.” There’s next to no danger in “A Love Song,” externally speaking anyway. Here, the fear is within. 

If there is drama in “A Love Song,” it takes the form of Faye waiting on an old friend, an ex-high school flame she has not seen in years named Lito (Wes Studi), also widowed. He doesn’t appear immediately, but this also isn’t “Waiting for Lito.” At the risk of a spoiler for a movie eschewing suspense, he gets there, though Walker-Silverman also has no intention of rendering this as a kind of AARP “Before Sunrise.” Indeed, on several occasions, Faye turns on the transistor radio inside her camper and spins the dial, trying to will a love song out of the airwaves, a fitting emblem of what she seems to be trying to do with Lito’s visit, to spark companionship. When Lito turns up bearing wildflowers, they suggest two elders becoming young again in so much as they are tentative, almost sheepish, evinced in a brief ice cream treat. But if initially they seek their footing by discussing the old days, their conversations grow more confessional, suggesting discussions they have wanted to have for lack of a person. Eventually, they both sit down with a guitar and serenade one another with Michael Hurley’s “Be Kind to Me,” creating their own love song rather than hoping to find one on the radio. And if it seems like there might be so much more lurking under the surface of this relationship, their day and night by the lake just sort of evaporates, like the song itself.

A few other characters briefly float through this story, most notably a group of cowhands seeking to excavate their father who just happens to be buried in the exact spot beneath Faye’s truck in the hope of moving his body to a different spot. Though this functions a little too neatly as a metaphor for Faye’s own need to move on, the way Walker-Silverman conveys these scenes, with the cowhands blocked all in a line, heads bowed, consciously comes across as a quiet departure from the movie’s otherwise easygoing realism, just as the denouement in which Faye impulsively hikes a mountain, falls asleep on its short peak overnight, lays on her back and stares up at the stars, hints at something spiritual. If it suggests how “A Love Song” shirks some of the more pointed and practical questions about getting old alone in America, there is also something inspiring in a kitchen sink kinda flick embracing its inner transcendentalist. 

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