Director Alma Har'el talks about her new film LoveTrue, executive produced by Shia LaBeouf with an original score from Flying Lotus
Only an audacious, genre-defying film like LoveTrue could make any sense of the many complications and contradictions that span our human emotions. Directed by Alma Har’el who also did 2011’s Bombay Beach, and exec-produced by Shia LaBeouf, the experimental documentary tells three interweaving stories that redefine the traditional notions of love – or, more specifically, what happens when it all falls apart.
In Alaska, Blake is a stripper whose devoted boyfriend, Joel, has a disability that thwarts the pair’s sex life. In New York, Destiny and her siblings belt out songs on the streets, but there’s a looming question mark regarding their absent mother. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Will is a single parent struck by the revelation that his child’s biological father is his (former) best friend.
Now, here’s the twist. In LoveTrue, it’s observed that everyone’s an actor when they fall in love, but sooner or later, the mask must come off. Ingeniously, Har’el hires non-professionals to play the participants’ past and future selves. Fiction thus merges with non-fiction: Blake converses with Old Blake (helpfully named on her shirt), scarring childhood incidents are recreated, and so on.
These imagined strands, crafted by Har’el out of extensive psychodrama sessions, poetically visualise the fears and memories of those involved. With an original score by Flying Lotus, it’s a mesmerising jigsaw of personal revelations and a film worth falling head over heels for.
What drove you to make a film about love – or rather, the unconventional aspects of love?
Alma Har’el: I started making this film because I was going through my own separation, and I was trying to decide if I should get a divorce. My husband is my best friend in the world, so that made it very challenging. I ended up feeling like I had this inner dialogue all this time with imaginary parts of myself – like who I was, and who I was afraid to become.
I wanted to find a way to externalise it. That’s when I started to find out about psychodrama. I was very interested in it, and the way it lets you use your imagination in order to explore unspoken things.
Why did you pick these three landscapes?
Alma Har’el: I wanted three landscapes that are as contrasted and different from each other as possible. So when you cut between the scenes, you know immediately where you are. I really felt the landscapes informed some of the moods we have, and how we deal with heartbreak and love.
You said this took four years to make?
Alma Har’el: It took a long time to find the right stories. There were couples that I filmed that didn’t go very deep, and I stopped filming them. So part of it was finding the people. Then we definitely wanted to start shooting the problems and the challenges that people were having, and to then come back over time to see the development. We came back about three, four or five times to each story, and followed it up.
How was it with Flying Lotus? Did you make a silent cut first?
Alma Har’el: When Flying Lotus came to work on the film, we already had a rough cut. I would send him scenes, and he would score them and give us a few options. I’d re-edit things to his music, and then send it back to finalise.
So what kind of things were you asking him to do?
Alma Har’el: I felt, because the film was about love, it could so easily get sappy – like you could think it’d go for a very sentimental soundtrack. But what’s interesting about FlyLo’s work is that he’s emotional; he’s very much a person who’s interested in dreams and magic and spirituality. But he’s also a maniac. And he’s definitely not a cheesy romantic person that takes a sentimental approach to anything. He’s an avant-garde, jazzy, digital artist. I really liked that balance.
Could you explain what Shia’s role was as executive producer?
Alma Har’el: Shia fully financed the film. We couldn’t get financing, and he stepped in. That was, I guess, his main role on the film. Other than that, he always supported me with any questions I had or any feedback I needed from him. He’s just an inspiration, because he’s a person who’s looking to make art without compromising on anything.
He’s made such a huge change in his life that not a lot of actors are capable of doing. He brought that mentality to the film.
I read he was initially a fan who emailed you many years ago.
Alma Har’el: Yeah, he bought Bombay Beach at Amoeba Records, and he watched it. Then he emailed me and asked to have dinner and work together. Then we did the Sigur Rós music video. It was the first thing he made that was more… I don’t want to say “artistic”, but it’s one of the first things he did that had more freedom. It was the first time he danced. Then he did Nymphomaniac, and Sia took him to do her video and have him dance there.
We interviewed Shia a few months ago. He said, “People end up hastily chasing the pleasures of possible love with such Mach 10 speed they sometimes rush right past it.” Is that something you noticed in the four years you spent on Lovetrue?
Alma Har’el: I think what’s happening now, like Shia says, is a certain urgency that we all share to be connected all the time to something that isn’t next to us. It’s almost an omnipresent wish to be everywhere all the time, and to see everything all the time.
Falling in love is about seeing one person. It’s not about seeing all the people and all the Instagram accounts and what everyone thinks on Facebook. It’s about seeing one person and, through him or her, knowing the world and life and yourself.
Of course, when our attention is so divided, it’s harder to focus on one thing. There’s almost a feeling we’re compromising our fantasies of being omnipresent to fall in love. But I still believe in love.
Taking part in a documentary can be like getting a tattoo. Did any participants later regret it?
Alma Har’el: It took a while to find people with a deep need to explore who they are, and who were also interested in the process. But I would say that at some point a lot of them regretted doing it and changed their mind later on and wanted to do it again. There was a lot of back and forth. All of them were at Tribeca, and when they saw the finished film, they felt I did the best I could with their stories. What happened to them afterwards really proves to me there were therapeutic qualities to it.
So I think the film’s actually helped a lot of us. I’m in a relationship now. A film is, to me, one of the best ways to own your story – to see it on a screen, to understand it, and to see it from other people’s perspectives.
‘LoveTrue’ opens at Bertha DocHouse inside the Curzon Bloomsbury and other cinemas on February 10
Bertha DocHouse will also be showing Bombay Beach on February 11
Check @Dazed on Twitter for a competition to win two tickets to a screening of one of Alma Har'el's films at Bertha DocHouse
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