Three true-life American love stories which weave through Alma Har’el’s sophomore documentary reveal the emotions and tensions, trauma and triumphs of modern American partnerships
ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART
THE STRAINS of seasonal staple ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ have New York shoppers stopping dead in their tracks. It is not simply the beautiful voices that draw their attention. The Boyds For Praise Company happen to be a talented family singing group comprising seven child siblings and their father,John. But there is an element of urgency to their performance. As much as they certainly normally rake the money in, (even the youngest being handed wads of notes when the day is over), the family are desperate to raise $4000 so their Mom can leave a homeless shelter and move into her own flat, and maybe even visit them all for Christmas.
Later, in the home the children share with their Dad, the youngest, Michael sits on John’s shoulders beside a huge decorated Christmas tree. The boy precariously reaches for the very top to attach a very large star while the other children look on. Clearly their Dad is a good and loving father – but we learn too that, accoding to his ex-missus, he was a lousy cheating husband, even while a one-time church pastor. This household yearns for parental reconciliation, but a ‘Happy New Year, everybody‘ from the ex-Mrs Boyd is tellingly on speaker phone: she is calling from her new apartment. Later, she will reveal that she will never go back.
Love Is Not What It Is Cracked Up To Be
Director and cinematographer, Alma Har’el’s meditative examination of relationships and what committed love and also family might mean is bookended by St Paul’s familiar words from 1 Corinthians, so often used in wedding. ceremonies. At the heart of verses 1-13 is the challenging: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ The passage – and film – conclude with the line, ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’
The opening switch of the words True Love at the film’s title sequence indicate that for all the value of those culturally precious Bible verses, real love can be far more of a battlefield and often difficult to maintain however much long-haul commitment might have been desired. There is something of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog series (1989) about this documentary: life is seem to be so often very different to the hopes, dreams and myths we bring to it. Har’el follows three complicated relationships – twentysomethings Blake and Noel in Alaska; the Boyd family, notably eldest child, the questioning singer-songwriter Victory, 17 in New York; and free spirit, William and his infant son, Honu in Hawaii. What emerges is how the individuals concerned deal with brokenness, and how love in it broad definition can still withstand it.
FreeForm Fluidity Of Past And Future Selves
LoveTrue shares the brave, imaginative and poetic form that Har’el brought to her award-winning first feature documentary, Bombay Beach (2011). Similarly, her focus on three human stories remains compassionate. (Actor, Shia Leboeuf was so impressed with her debut that he Executive Directed this second.) Originally an Israeli-born music video director, it is if the Har’el brings the freedom of fluidity, choreography and a healthily detached unAmerican eye to whom and what she observes.
And she is not phased nor confined by traditional documentary form. She hires people to act out past and future stories. Often they wear t-shirts with their role. So a barefoot Young Will (Kekoa Hunt) acts out the recalled freeform youth of his older adult self. Self-defined ‘nerd’ and pole dancer, redhead Blake sits beside a fellow stripper (Mary Hanglad), who, aged 49 is realising her days at the Reflections Gentleman’s Club where they both work are numbered and she has little to show for it. The woman’s vest reads ‘Older Blake’: it seems a wake-up call to the pair of them. There are beautifully choreographed sequences too, most notably when we view surfer William’s minds-eye view of an underwater battle with the one-time good friend who had an affair with his presumed soul-mate. The score by Flying Lotus is hugely atmospheric.
Celebration Of Humanity’s Desire To Truly Connect Regardless
The Christmas experienced by the Boyd family in Love True captures the festival’s many recognised and traditional dimensions, whether or not people share the Boyds’ Christian beliefs. It is a time of joy and celebration, of charitable giving, putting on a brave face, and both gathering of family and friends and an awareness of absences. And that we can’t help noticing in Alma Har’el’s thought-provoking and mesmerising doc is the very nature of so much human love. The people who feature in her film are very honest about their successes and failures in these close relationships. Love is seen to be difficult and troubling, as well as heartwarming and positively life changing.
Of all the varieties of striving for love expressed here, it is Hawaii’s laid back ‘Coconut Willy’ who emerges the memorable revelation. His once carefree life was turned on its head during the making of the film when he learnt that Honu was not his child although he had always been his father. His response is as heroic and decent and self-sacrificial as that of Viola Davis’ character in Fences. Real-life love is still very often genuine unconditional true love.
Snow falls outside the club where Blake has made her living. Her tale of love and loss, like the others here, and the director’s own sign-off dedication of her film to her parents who always tried to love each other is a microscopic view of the entire human story. As are those fragile tumbling flakes.
LoveTrue is now available on dvd at £9.99