It seems unfair to call LoveTrue a documentary, though by all accounts that’s what it is. LoveTrue premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Awards and has since picked up two awards for Best Documentary at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Crested Butte Film Festival along with many nominations from others on the festival circuit. It’s not difficult to understand why, as Israeli-American director, Alma Har’el, expertly weaves reality and fiction together in a hypnotically sensual, genre-warping film that focuses on the journeys of three real-life couples across the United States.
The opening scenes paint an abstract portrait of love and loss, the trials of relationships and the maddeningly confusing desires and expectations of the lovers depicted in the film. We see Willie, living in Hawaii, trying to raise his baby in the best way possible, Victory and her family attempting to navigate New York despite the disappearance of her and her siblings’ mother and her father’s wife, and Alaskan couple Blake who works as a stripper and Joel, a computer nerd who are in the early stages of a relationship. The geographical distance between the characters (and it feels right to call them characters given Har’el’s propensity to fictionalise their lives) only serves to highlight the universality of the themes that the film focusses on.
Blake and Joel’s relationship is perhaps the most uplifting of the three narratives. Their relationship whilst young is sweetly warm and Har’el goes to great lengths not to demonise or use Blake’s career for shock value. However, just as “love, hope, and faith” are key themes throughout the three narratives, so are the darker and less appealing aspects of love: loss, fear, and insecurity as evidenced by Blake’s desire for escape, though from what remains unclear.
Likewise, the breakdown of Victory’s relationship with her father as the truth behind her mother’s disappearance is revealed whilst Willie’s struggle to deal with and overcome the sudden dispute over his child’s paternity all seem to point to the fact that love, at it’s best is uncertain and at its worst is forever just out of reach.
The unreal reality that Har’el depicts in this hazy, dreamlike documentary is both its selling point and its downfall. At times, the visuals are as gorgeous as they are distracting, though this may be intentional on Har’el’s part as the intertwining storylines of the three couples lack the substance and, quite frankly, the likability to carry a documentary on love by themselves. The entire film feels like it is trying to be more than it is — and there is a strong argument that Har’el focusses more on style than on substance — the made up conversations and improvisations between actors and the real-life lovers in the film comes across as performative and affected. The choice to use subtitles over voiceover to relay first-person testimony is unnecessary and even detrimental to the overall viewing of the film.
LoveTrue then is a dizzying (maybe too much so) journey. It is as intoxicating as it is alienating and raises more questions than it has answers to, though given its subject matter, maybe this is not only to be expected but encouraged.