Words by Charlotte Harding
Love is patient and kind, it does not insist on its own way. It does not rejoice in the wrong, it rejoices in the right. Love bares all things, leaves all things, love never ends…
Is there anything more complex, more brutal, electrifying, flawed or intoxicating as love? Tel-Aviv born, New York based director Alma Har’el tears apart our binary expectations of true love with the genre-bending documentary LoveTrue, three tales that look to love as a state of being that isn’t necessarily romantic at all.
LoveTrue is a cinematic experience like no other. Soundscaped to the reverberating score of experimental electro artist Flying Lotus, this stirringly surreal, raw film lulls you into an 82-minute lucid dream, drifting in and out of reality in palpable waves to slowly reveal a rich mosaic of deep and revealing human stories, woven together through Har’el’s astounding inventive style and meditative structure.
Each of LoveTrue’s three threads aren’t quite what they appear when first introduced. We first meet Blake, a soft-spoken redhead from rural Alaska, a self-described nerd who enjoys vampire cosplay on weekends, who is in a blossoming relationship with aspiring doctor Joel, who also has a rare bone disease. Then there’s Coconut Willie, a free-spirted Hawaiian coconut arbalest entering adulthood, and Victory, a singer/songwriter from a large, close-knit family in New York City.
Har’el never directly identifies her subjects, instead their lives unravel before your eyes, with revelations played out unassumingly. Blake is a stripper in a highway gentleman’s club, Willie is a young father who has only just learnt he is not the biological father to his son, and Victory’s family dynamic is an increasingly broken one, since her father’s infidelity and parent’s subsequent separation.
Har’el not once objectifies or stigmatises these imperfect, textured bonds, but embraces them wholeheartedly as her own. Spurred on by the heartbreak of an exhausting divorce from her husband, LoveTrue’s beginnings stem from Har’el’s own cathartic search to make sense of her life through listening to others, something you immediately sense through the filmmaker’s own deep personal connections to Blake, Willie and Victory. As a viewer, you feel the tender affection she feels for them and their emotional struggles to grapple with their identities and sense of belonging as they shift out of control.
“LoveTrue is about how we change our view of love as we grow older. It explores how we cast ourselves and others in mythological stories we live with that end up shaping us, and how we discover that after our heart is broken we need to find a deeper and bigger understanding of our dreams.” –Alma Har’el
The film hinges on these unconventional relationships, but the most powerful idiosyncrasy is Har’el’s directorial vision to blend fantasy and therapy into the documentary tradition, elevating LoveTrue into its own stratosphere, offering a fascinating and revealing insight into Blake, Willie and Victory’s lives.
Psychotherapy is used in LoveTrue to explore issues or memories through unscripted role-play and dramatic re-enactment of real situations, played both by actors and the character’s themselves to delve deep into their past, present and future selves. Willie interacts with Younger Willie, and Blake with Older Blake (played by Blake’s work companion, 49-year-old stripper Snow) to poignant effect, while Victory’s father John interaction with an actor playing his estranged wife unfortunately lacks the same sensitivity and exploration as the film’s counterparts, and takes the emphasis away from Victory’s own story, putting the symmetry of the three characters slightly off balance. These scenes however provide both magnetic and mesmerising subversion to current limited mechanisms of filmmaking, and to our wider mainstream definitions of truth and reality.
As the unidentified narrator’s voice echoes half way through the film, “you never know anyone when you fall in love, not even yourself, it’s like we are all actors, but if you wait long enough the mask comes off.” And this is exactly what Har’el does. Manipulating the documentary genre’s flaws by removing the mask, exploring the tension of presenter and presented she does not try to hide or deny: she shares, she accounts for the change that comes over people being filmed when the representative takes over. Har’el calls to reject the fly-on-the-wall, and instead be the elephant-in-the-room, tapping into the subconscious of her subjects to better explore how their own understanding of relationships and intimacy were moulded.
LoveTrue is as haunting as it is healing, an immersive, tender and soulful insight into all the imperfect and bittersweet shades of love, chronicling how it shapes us through the darkest moments of our lives. Har’el masterfully pushes the documentary genre further into new, otherworldly realms, producing honest and poetic cinema full of poignancy whilst creating a metafictional portrait that taps into the universal feeling of love in transition, that everyone in some way can relate to.
Lovetrue is out in UK on 10th February 2017
We are hosting a talk on capturing emotions on film after free screening provided by Dogwoof in House of Vans on 23rd February. Reserve your tickets here.