At a campsite near a lake, a somewhat older woman waits for a man whom she hasn’t seen since they were young. She’s a widow and he’s a widower. That’s the simple premise of the gorgeous new movie “A Love Song.”
As the movie begins, we hear bird calls and see wildflowers. The woman walks to the lake to see if her crawfish trap is full and then starts her daily routine of preparing a meal in her small camper trailer. As she turns on the radio and a song starts playing, we get our first closeup of her and it’s a revelation. She has pale blue eyes and maintains blond, shoulder-length hair but her face is heavily lined. She seems downcast until an almost-smile materializes as the song’s chorus starts.
The woman, Faye, is played by Dale Dickey, a wonderful actress who’s had a lengthy career in movies and TV but rarely in lead roles. When she speaks as Faye, there’s a rasp to her words but also a girlish tone during shyer moments, like when she tells two fellow campers that she’s meeting a man but doesn’t know when he’ll show up exactly.
She encounters others, too, as she passes the time birdwatching and stargazing, such as four young brothers and their precocious little sister who ask Faye if she will move her trailer so they can dig up their dad, who’s buried underneath. The reason for this request is that they interred him there because of the nice view of the western sky but now there’s an oil pumpjack just to the side, ruining the vista. Director Max Walker-Silverman films this scene and others with the siblings with droll dialogue, blocking, and editing, adding a nice touch of deadpan humor to the pleasantly placid proceedings of his first feature-length film.
Eventually, the man, Lito, turns up. He is played by the great Native American actor Wes Studi, who, similar to Ms. Dickey, appears older but retains a certain youthfulness. Over the course of a day, Faye and Lito reconnect as they swim in the lake, play songs on their guitars, and eat together. Their exchanges are spare but laden with nostalgia, deep feeling, and even irony, as encapsulated in this exchange:
“You think the cabin I was a kid in is still there?” Lito asks.
“Think they still graze sheep ’round here?” Faye responds.
With its widowed protagonist, widescreen cinematography, and searching melancholy, comparisons with “Nomadland” are inevitable, though “A Love Song” doesn’t address economic issues, nomad culture, or larger familial relationships. What it does is take the viewer on a restorative getaway to the Colorado Mountains, offering breathtaking, slightly-grainy beauty and some hard-won wisdom. The accompanying music, brilliant blues and country songs, pierces one’s defenses through its simplicity and honesty.
“A Love Song” is a universal paean to the healing powers of nature, specifically the landscape of the western United States, and a stirring filmic short story of grief and loneliness, love and loss. Even easily missed details, such as a shot of a slice of the moon from behind a hill while Faye and Lito are setting up a tent at dusk, are glorious. Much like “A Love Song.”