The first shots of “A Love Song” are a signal for the rest of the film — stubborn flowers and shrubs pushing through dry, stony earth in southwest Colorado. They’re rough beauties, been through a lot, and yet are still captivating in their rawness.
Max Walker-Silverman’s film is also a spare beauty, delicate but strong and tenacious, exploring time, love and nature. Though it is rated PG, “A Love Song” is very much an adult film, quiet and slow and very, very restrained. It may require the viewer to relearn how to be patient amid all the rival Marvel-boom nonsense offerings at the theaters these days.
Dale Dickey, of “Winter’s Bone,” stars as a woman late in life who has set up an RV at a campsite along a lake, pulling crayfish out of the water to eat and looking hopeful whenever anyone nears. She’s clearly waiting for someone and passes her time studying the stars and the birds.
Walker-Silverman, who also supplied the script — which literally could have fit on a few index cards — keeps the actors’ motives and background unclear until they reveal them, leaving huge chunks of unspoken film work.
Dickey is absolutely up to the challenge, somehow communicating longing and loneliness while gruffly busying herself with day-to-day life, keeping to a routine but also seeming to yearn to break it one day. Each time she hears a car on the gravel path, she fusses with her hair like a schoolgirl.
Well, one day a man shows up with a clutch of tough-looking flowers — who also nervously fusses with his hair. It’s Wes Studi playing a long-lost would-be lover from 10th grade. Can sparks fly a second time, decades apart?
“Reckon you can still love something that ain’t there no more?” she asks. He answers: “I know you can. Don’t you?”
We’d be boorish if we gave it away, but Walker-Silverman grounds his study in absolute soulful humanity. While waiting for her new-old man, our heroine visits another couple camping — Michelle Wilson and Benja K. Thomas — and they’re at a romantic standoff. Even the mailman has some overly poignant moments. The filmmaker has a tendency to make every word hang in the air importantly since there are so few of them.
The only thing that seems to unbalance the film is the appearance and reappearance of a local precocious and overly polite girl and her four older and silent brothers. There’s something slightly surreal and Wes Anderson about them. As dry humor, they don’t really work, threatening to mar a subtle piece.
The title comes from our heroine’s tendency to turn on her transistor radio and spin the dial, letting fate send her a message through the radio waves. “Always plays the perfect song even if in the moment you ain’t sure why,” she says. The film’s soundtrack has Michael Hurley’s “Be Kind To Me,” Dick Flood’s “The Man Who Walks Alone” and Valerie June’s “Slip Slide One By.”
As a viewer, you may leave the theater with more answers than when you arrived — and that’s refreshing. Walker-Silverman has no interest in putting pretty bows on things, loads of past histories or sentimentality. This is what love looks like with wrinkles and sorrow but also sunshine and joy — it pushes through the harshness of life and blooms with possibility.
MARK KENNEDY, MDT/AP Entertainment Writer
“A Love Song,” a Bleeker Street release, is rated PG for “mild thematic elements.” Running time: 81 minutes. ★★★★