After her hugely successful 2006 documentary, "The Monastery" (which won a major award at IDFA, screened in competition at Sundance and was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award), Pernille Rose Grønkjær took on a little-known epidemic: Love addiction.
In "Love Addict" – which made its international premiere at IDFA last night – Grønkjær explores the all-consuming obsession to obtain and arrest the love of others. Set in America, the doc follows seven personal stories of those hopelessly obsessed with ideas that are simply unattainable.
So what made you decide to take on this topic?
I did "The Monastery" and that was kind of a big success. So I wasn't quite sure how to get back up on the horse after that. I had a talk with my producer and she said I needed to learn something new and do something different. I love old people, but I've done two films about old people now. So it was time to make a change.
I was researching on addictions and I found this website in Arizona about treating various addictions and it said 'love addiction.' And I've never started a film out by finding a topic. I'd rather find a person and then build a film around that. But with this, I started with that topic.
As I researched, I found that this should probably be a multi-narrative film. And that was also a different thing for me. So in those ways, it was a new challenge for me. And I think that is the most important thing. When you do something next, it has to be a little bit dangerous and outside of your comfort zone. You have to keep yourself on edge.
You also experimented with sort of fiction/nonfiction hybrid in this film with the character of Eliza, who is perhaps the most intensely "love addicted" person in the film. The rest of your subjects were more traditionally nonfiction, but with her you dramatized the story, correct?
We did something real, but we fictionalized a bit. Eliza is a recovered love addict. So what we did was we collaborated together. I wrote some stuff for her and we discussed together about it. It's not a literal playout of her story, but it's a playout of emotions that she has experienced and knows about.
For me, it was also about how to ethically film people stalking. How do I actually show the hardness of this? And still as a filmmaker feel like it's okay to be doing what I'm doing. I just kept imagining me standing next to the person in the shrubbery with a camera! I couldn't do that. So how do I show the lengths some people go to? And show it in a way where I can still present the film as a loyal person to the people that are in it. With Eliza, I figured that out. It was a very good process. And for her, it was tough to do. Because in many ways, it was very real.
How did you find all of the other subjects?
They were so hard to find! I knew that the film was going to be in the US because there is a community of love addicts there that has progressed more than, for instance, here in Europe. So everything led me to the US… Books, therapists. So I figured that out first.
Then I thought, 'Oh, it's the US… Everybody wants to go on camera, so it will be easy! But nobody responded. It took us like a year to get people to respond. This is a delicate subject. And it's really hard to stand up and say, 'I'm not good with relationships. I can't find love.'
So many of us have this, but who dares to stand up and say that? So it took us a really long time. And I think in the end we have some very brave people in the film. They were very generous in the way they opened up.
And very eloquent in what they were discussing.
Exactly. And that's what was kind of touching for me. Sometimes, it seemed like the ones having the hardest times were also the most generous ones. They let me in and are very honest about it.
But yes, it was really hard to get people to participate. Because this is not an easy subject. A lot of other things are a little more sexy. It's not so cool to not be able to figure love out.
No. And while I'm well aware of folks that have significant issues with that, I had no idea there was this community surrounding it as an addiction.
To be honest, I wasn't aware either. For me, I really learned a lot from this. Because we're all supposed to handle it. We're all supposed to live happily ever after. We're all supposed to have the great relationships and have the great job. Everything fits in all these boxes. But who says it's easy? It really isn't. So in that sense, it's been really eye opening.