LoveTrue opens with a visual flashback into the life of someone we haven’t quite met yet and while it’s overlaid with Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels…”, a passage often quoted at weddings, the meaning feels altered from its usual associations and driven more by the thought of love as something far in the distance. It becomes apparent in Alma Har’el’s deeply evocative character studies that her documentary (exec produced by Shia LaBeouf) is a study of love but not in fanciful and romanticised fashion but instead real and honestly.
LoveTrue is a trilogy of stories that’s split evenly across the film and at first we have a small introduction into each individual life and then it goes back and forth as the entire narrative unfolds. By using this approach, we learn something new each time and it changes the perspective of what we learned earlier. While the realignments aren’t huge reveals, they’re big enough to make you question your original opinion. This is an important because, much like their stories, life reveals itself as it goes along, not all at the beginning.
We’re first introduced to the very likeable twenty-something Blake Gurtler and her boyfriend who are living in Alaska. She declares she was different at school and didn’t really know she was a geek until later on in life, because she didn’t know what that was. Her boyfriend has Osteogenesis imperfecta, known more generally as having ‘brittle bones’, which means he’s likely to fracture something at any point. They seem like a sweet couple and, at this point, support each other in various ways. Blake is deeply worried about his parents knowing what she does for a living, as she’s a stripper, because she’s anxious they won’t understand – and they’re religious – so this subtly hangs over proceedings in the early stages. Blake just wants a better life, wants to study and improve somehow, like all of us and wants someone to understand this along her journey.
Willie Hunt is the next person we’ll step inside with, he’s living in Hawaii, smoking a lot of weed (or similar!) and collecting coconuts from the trees to sell locally. It’s apparent he’s somewhat separated from the world around him. His history is displayed differently to the others with sequences played out by actors accompanied by subtitles showing us what he said about those times. He’s on the edge of a dysfunctional relationship and trying to find his life. But, at this moment, the best feeling he gets is from a lot of smoking, wild nights out and drinking. It’s a moment of breakdown but important to witness and as he says later on after surfing a huge wave “I love that you’re filming me surfing the Jaws (in Peʻahi on the north shore of Maui) but I hate that it’s at one of the darkest moments of my life.”
The other focus is on Boyd family from New York, they’re a large family who earn money from singing in Central Park and around the city. We initially look at a young girl from the family whose jaw was broken in an accident and they’ve been doing what they can to keep going. It’s also revealed that their Mum left because their father cheated a lot but… that story has more to it. There’s a lot of sadness underneath but you’ll hear some of the most beautiful voices, with a standout moment being their version of ‘Higher Love’ which reflects their need to sing and the release of positive energy through hard times.
LoveTrue offers beautiful visual sequences accompanied by an original soundtrack composed and performed by Flying Lotus, its approach of using actors to visualise the story means the connection reminded me of contemporary video art that spreads out beyond the screen itself. Alma’s documentary also isn’t really about true love, even if they talk about it, it’s about love being true within the situation you’re in and whatever that might mean in different places by raising questions such as ‘Does the meaning of love exist?’ or ‘Is it simply a condition of circumstance?’
The documentary verges on heart-breaking in places but it’s also an ethereal journey of reality and non-reality displayed through the connection of humanity. LoveTrue is an insightful exploration, that’s unique in its approach and experience, one of those to savour and ponder upon beyond the cinema.
LoveTrue opens in the UK on 10 February. Find your closest screening with Dogwoof.