Last night at New York’s School for Visual Arts, a number of Tribeca Film Festival attendees saw an exclusive preview of scenes from Alma Har’el’s new film “LoveTrue.” Har’el returned to Tribeca this year after winning the festival’s Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary in 2011 with “Bombay Beach,” a surreal and beautiful portrait of a small town in the California desert. After directing Shia LaBeouf in the music video for Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur píanó,” Har’el and the actor teamed up for “LoveTrue,” which she directed and he produced. The two discussed the project in between three clips from the film.
Tribeca: Alma Har’el and Shia LaBeouf Premiere Hypnotic Footage From ‘LoveTrue’
Tribeca: Alma Har'el and Shia LaBeouf Premiere Hypnotic Footage From 'LoveTrue'
READ MORE: “Bombay Beach” Director Alma Har’el: “I’m Not a Documentarian, or a Filmmaker, or Anything.”
“LoveTrue” is as of yet a work in progress, to be completed next year. The film blurs the line between documentary and fiction, interweaving three distinct (true) love stories of couples living in three unique American locations: Alaska, New York, and Hawaii. To find the right subjects, Har’el searched for months; in support groups, on the streets, and using casting directors. But she also recruited non-actors to play the subject’s younger and older selves, as “LoveTrue” is an exploration of how love changes as we age. “I had to redefine my idea of love as I grew older,” said Har’el.
LaBeouf was in good form, acting gracious and affectionate towards Har’el. “She looks good, doesn’t she?” he asked, when the filmmaker walked on stage with glittery pants and wild red hair. LaBeouf first discovered Har’el when he saw the pink-sunset cover for “Bombay Beach” in a record store. He said he was in a “shitty relationship” at the time, deep into drugs and drinking, and had watched Har’el’s film over and over before writing her a fan letter. The director revealed that she was going through a divorce and similarly experiencing hardship, perhaps explaining why the two of them connected. “She probably doesn’t want to say this, but she was in a terrible place,” LaBeouf shared, while Har’el chuckled at his forthrightness. “She’s being frosty about it, but she was in deep, deep pain.” LaBeouf went on to claim that “the best art comes out of pain.”
After working with Har’el on Sigur Rós, LaBeouf heard about her idea for “LoveTrue,” and sent her a check in the mail to complete the project, no lawyer consultation necessary. Although LaBeouf couldn’t be on set, Har’el sent him clips of the production’s progress and he would “cheerlead from the side,” but was careful not to insert his opinion.
The three showcased scenes were hypnotic and transitory, collages of small moments in color, conversation, and human behavior. Har’el captures details such as a cat slinking in through a window, the neon of a store sign, or a kid playing with wind chimes. The choreographed sequences, contrastingly, are impressive and big; two men wrestling deep beneath the ocean, or strippers with glowing g-strings performing complex routines on the pole. One story follows a man who learns his son is not his biological child, but still loves him. Another story focuses on a stripper named Blake and her boyfriend, who has bones that are fragile like glass, forcing him to move with extreme caution. Blake, a young girl, appears on-screen with Mary, a 49-year-old real-life stripper, who Har’el hired to play what Blake is afraid of becoming — a woman still stuck stripping 30 years later.
Har’el said she’s comfortable blending what is real and what isn’t, and believes there is plenty of room in documentary for staging and performance. “Fuck the fly on the wall. Let’s be the elephant in the room,” she said. “LoveTrue” is equal parts therapy, performance and psychodrama. In love and in relationships, we perform; “you are playing who you think they want you to be,” explained Har’el, “and sometimes when the performance is over, the relationship is over.”
“We’re all performers,” LaBeouf added. “That’s why we don’t pick our noses on CNN.” He went on to explain the difference between “representational” acting (like Al Pacino) and “presentational” acting (Joaquin Phoenix). “Working with Alma is presentational,” LaBeouf decided. “But everyone is an actor. You can have multiple selves that are all equally true.”