This very unusual documentary is one of the most inventive, warm and – above everything else – human movies you will see this year. Israeli-American filmmaker Alma Har’el returns with a fascinating deep-dive into broken homes, dysfunctional families and very unorthodox relationships in the US, and the outcome is a tribute to kindness, tolerance, self-acceptance and, of course, love!
The director asked people from unusual and intriguing backgrounds to reenact some of the most remarkable episodes of their lives. Few actors are used, and the real “characters” perform their own lives with their family and friends, and it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between these actors and the “real people”. Har’el is so audacious and ingenious that at times she unabashedly exposes her camera, as she deftly plays with the various narrative layers. The photography is stunning, ranging from underwater takes to urban landscapes. There are also plenty of allegorical images thrown in (such as the one at the top). There’s plenty of lyrical freedom in a film that’s impossible to categorise, but which can be fittingly described as a masterpiece.
LoveTrue is composed of three central pillars. Alaskan Joel has a very rare condition that makes his bones extremely brittle and prevents him from engaging in very basic tasks, as well as from having sex. He’s in committed relationship with stripper Blake, but he’s very concerned that his family may not embrace her career. In Hawaii, the tender surfer Coconut Willie has to reinvent his relationship with his son upon finding out that he’s not his biological offspring. Lastly, New York singer Victory performs with her siblings and father, oblivious to the reasons that led to a very abrupt separation from her mother years earlier.
Blake, Coconut and Victory face the same predicament: they have to rescue love and kindness from a very unusual relationship, which most people would perceive as maladjusted or even unfit, and the director herself describes as “dysfunctional”. They all succeed in one way or another, even if redemption does not always translate into reconciliation. These people recognise the fallibilities of their loved ones as an integral part of their humanity. They willingly find happiness in forgiveness – in the religious, spiritual, social and personal sense.
The director sums it up at the end of the movie: “broken love and broken homes make the best people”. Ultimately, LoveTrue is a painful but rewarding healing process to anyone who has suffered with love – romantic, maternal, paternal or fraternal. It’s also a journey towards self-acceptance, and the audience is on the passenger seat. This vehicle has two drivers: the subject and the director. The film producer Shia LaBeouf opined about the latter: “Her way is not fly-on-the-wall documentation; it’s elephant-in-the-room. The allows people to take ownership in their representation, to be in on their objectification”
What’s most remarkable about LoveTrue is that the documentarist allows the subjects to get involved in the filmmaking as much as they wish, without losing her own grip as the helmer. They are in control both behind and in front of the cameras, and the outcome is an extremely candid and moving film. It’s almost as if you knew the people in there, and empathy is inevitable. German filmmaker Frank Ripploh reenacted his own life in Taxi to the Toilet (1980), but no one has recreated multiple stories from strangers in the same way as Alma Har’el.
LoveTrue is out in cinemas from Friday February 10th. Don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: