Judge Alice Nelson is fairly certain that Muskrat Love breaks some kind of law, but not so sure about Prairie Love.
The Vagrant, The Girl, and The NoDak.
Everyone wants to find that person they can fall madly and deeply in love with, but it might be a little hard when your home is an old station wagon, barely running, with a homemade trailer hitched on the back and a frozen deer carcass tied to it. FYI, guys, this is not a turn on for the ladies. Dusty Bias wrote and directed the independent film Prairie Love. It tells the story of a lonely drifter who is so desperate to love and be loved that he steals the identity of a man he finds near death on a cold and desolate North Dakota road.
Facts of the Case
The Vagrant (Jeremy Clark) is a loser wandering the frozen tundra of North Dakota in a rundown station wagon. He saves the life of a man named NoDak (Garth Blomberg), who nearly freezes to death after his truck breaks down on a deserted road. While NoDak is unconscious in the back of the car, The Vagrant rummages through his belongings, finding love letters from his female pen pal, who is currently serving time at a women's correctional facility. The love-starved Vagrant realizes that The Girl (Holly Lynn Ellis) and NoDak have never seen each other, and decides that he will take the place of NoDak when The Girl is released. One small problem: What to do with NoDak.
North Dakota in the winter just looks downright frigid and bleak, but writer/director Dusty Bias uses that bleakness of never-ending snow as a framework for his wonderfully odd love story Prairie Love.
The first quarter of the film is focused solely on The Vagrant, who never utters one word. Director Bias uses images in the rundown station wagon to give us an insight into the life of this lonely man. The camera pans around his home on wheels and we see personal items like a space heater, lantern, thermos, and—my favorite—a bedpan (Ah…the smell in there must be quite aromatic). The Vagrant's only companion is the disembodied voice on a cassette tape extolling the virtues of love, and what you must do to obtain it. The Vagrant has memorized every bit of the wisdom from this tape, and believes this makes him an expert on the subject of love. "Take what is yours and never look back," says this anonymous voice, and it is this piece of advice that fuels a man who isn't rooted in reality, and leads to him making a critical decision later in the film. Clark is excellent as the mentally unstable Vagrant; he is able to hold our attention even while being the only person in the entire scene -that is no easy feat. Clark has collaborated with Bias on other projects and that familiarity shows, resulting in an outstanding performance by Jeremy Clark.
The other two characters in this three-character play are NoDak, a man on his way to meet The Girl, a woman he fell in love with through a correspondence they began while she was in prison, and The Girl herself. Both of these individuals' lives are forever changed after meeting The Vagrant, and not for the better, as they get caught up in his unyielding desire for the love he believes he deserves. The Vagrant falls hard for The Girl and justifies why he should be her lover instead of NoDak, based on the information he gleans from that worn-out cassette tape.
This is the first film role for Garth Blomberg, and it's hard to imagine it will be his last. His laid-back portrayal of NoDak is in sharp contrast to The Vagrant's anxious intensity, and the two play off each other very well. NoDak is a smart guy, wary of the man that saved his life, but because he has no other way to get to the prison to meet his love, puts up with a man who obviously has a few screws loose. Ellis is fantastic as The Girl, and easily my favorite character in the entire film. I love her portrayal of The Girl as sweet and naïve, but at the same time she conveys this darker side, and you have no doubt that she can more than hold her own with the unhinged and obsessed Vagrant.
This is Bias' first feature film, and in it he has created full multidimensional characters. He reveals very little about their past lives and how they end up in their current circumstances; but the writing is so well done that you never feel like you're missing those details. Even with a lack of information, it still feels as if we know these people inside and out, and that can only be accomplished with well-developed characters in a superbly written script.
Prairie Love is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which does a fine job of showing the surprising splendor of the desolate North Dakota winter. The Dolby stereo audio highlights the minimal dialogue as well as a hauntingly beautiful original score by Ted Speaker. Extras include a short film titled "A Family Portrait," an interesting animated film that explores how things can go horribly wrong during a simple family portrait.
Prairie Love is a quiet film that moves along at a slow and steady pace, but continually adds layers as it goes, building the story as much visually as it does with the dialogue. I highly recommend a purchase of this fine little film.
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