If you stay for the closing credits of Alma Har’el’s “LoveTrue,” you’ll be treated to a few of the more unusual titles of those who worked on a nonfiction film, most notably “psychodrama advisers.” You’ll also notice that the 16 millimeter films that give the “Bombay Beach” director’s latest such indelible texture, illuminating the stories of three people irrevocably changed for better and worse by their experience of love, come from Har’el’s personal collection, leaving her fingerprints all over the project even if she’s not obviously onscreen herself. Har’el has been open about her inspiration for the film, saying before at a work-in-progress screening of “LoveTrue” at the Tribeca Film Festival a year ago that a divorce and her parents’ own tempestuous relationship led her to the ends of the earth in search of how romance ages as it collides with reality, and when combined with inventive structuring, embedding herself with subjects in Hawaii, Alaska and New York and documenting not only their reality but asking them to reenact their dreams, she astounds by conveying emotional truths in cinematic terms that would seem ineffable otherwise.
Har’el never makes a point of identifying her three subjects, but all are identifiable in their relationship struggles. In Alaska, the filmmaker finds Blake, a cherubic redhead who is far more world-weary than her baby face would suggest, describing herself as growing up as “a nerd, but I didn’t know what a nerd was,” and in a romance with Joel, an aspiring doctor with a rare bone disease which makes him difficult to have a physical relationship with. Yet as the film reveals, their relationship may be even more fragile due to her line of work, which has scared off past boyfriends. In the case of Willie, a seemingly carefree coconut arbalest in Hawaii, it’s his mind that has all but broken, still reeling from learning his wife had an affair, putting into question the paternity of their young son. Then there’s Victory Boyd, a member of a family of gospel singers, who is similarly troubled as she learns more about her parents’ separation and in particular, the actions of her father, with whom she stayed with in the aftermath.
On the surface, the three stories seem to have been picked at random, but Har’el finds a bewitching way to fuse them together stylistically, ironically taking the disenchanting experience of realizing the limits of love in a world where the practical often trumps passion and conjuring a spell by venturing into the personal histories of her subjects, visualizing their desires and picking personal traits, whether it’s Victory’s velvety voice, Blake’s dancing or Willie’s island surroundings, to envelop the audience and let them get lost in their lives. By taking the long view, invoking tactile facts as well as the creation of moments intended to pierce the subconscious to give context to the very present moment “LoveTrue” feels as if it exists in, Har’el gets her arms around the unwieldy cycle of how the romantic relationships we’ve seen or have been in shape us, showing the full arc of the people who have been transformed by them, for better or worse. It’s an embrace that results in as transporting an experience as you’re likely to have at the cinema, a film that may dare to suggest that not all love stories end with a kiss, yet one worth falling for nonetheless.