Love Simple is not an easy ride. An independent, low-budget film—produced in three short weeks and written and directed by Mark Von Sternberg— it portrays the difficulties of a romantic relationship based entirely on deception.
The film’s protagonist, Seta (Patrizia Hernandez), suffers from lupus, an auto-immune disease that typically manifests as a skin rash across the cheeks and nose. Her past lovers have been none too thrilled about her affliction, so when Seta starts to flirt with the idea of involvement with Adam (Francisco Solorzano), she decides she won’t let him in on her little secret.
As the movie progresses, and as Seta’s lies become more and more complicated, we learn she’s not the only one hiding the truth. Adam has secrets, too, and the characters’ mutual deceptions cause their lives and relationship to fall apart. Ultimately rendered strangers to one another, they face the choice between moving on or starting from scratch.
As Seta, Hernandez gives a stunning performance. Though the character has lupus, she is not defined by the disease and remains, first and foremost, a person. She is passionate, real, and sometimes angry.
“When I first read the script, I liked her,” Hernandez said of her complex character. “She’s smart and funny and vulnerable. Even though Seta and I are, superficially, very different, I knew it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to play her. Deep down she and I are much more similar than not.”
While researching her role, Hernandez was surprised to find that lupus is more common than she’d known, and that most people affected by the disease are women. Being of Puerto Rican descent, Hernandez became curious about the ways in which the disease spans culture. “It’s a pretty big disease in the Latin community, which I didn’t know,” Hernandez said. “The reading I’d done said that lupus breaks along ethnic lines and that Latinos are hugely affected.” Hernandez hopes Love Simple helps bring the disease and its effects to greater public attention.
The film has already made a notable impact on the lupus community. Post-production producer John Casey helped arrange for the film’s iTunes launch in the US and Canada to donate a percentage of proceeds to S.L.E. Lupus Foundation. Before long, Love Simple was requested in China, Australia, and England—countries that iTunes does not reach. Casey and Sternberg signed with Synergetic, an international film distributor, to expand the reach of the project. Ten percent of proceeds from Synergetic distribution of the film go to the Lupus Research Institute in New York City.
“We’ve had a tremendous response,” said Casey. “This month, Lupus Magazine created a special Love Simple edition. The reaction to this film has been overwhelming and very meaningful.” In a newly launched Spanish version of Lupus Magazine, Hernandez was interviewed about her career and the film.
Though Love Simple is billed as a romantic comedy, its writer-director says he always intended for the project to have a bit of an edge. “I wanted this film to bring visibility to a disease,” Sternberg said. “My own experience with lupus was as someone who, like the majority of Americans, really knew nothing about it.” That all changed, said Sternberg, when he began working as a nursing administrator in the Methodist Hospital of Brooklyn. While there, he overheard a floor report of a patient who had died of lupus. Fresh out of graduate school, Sternberg began to research the illness and discovered lupus to be a mysterious disease with a multitude of symptoms—some of which manifest with frightening discretion.
Because he had no intimate relationship with the disease, Sternberg was initially nervous about sharing the film with the lupus community. “I had done my research, and I had spoken to doctors, but you still never know,” Sternberg said. “This is a serious illness, and I wanted to make sure we got the details right: the symptoms, the characterization, and an avoidance of any kind of self-pity in the character.”
But when it came to winning the acceptance of a wider audience, Sternberg had no trepidation. Though Love Simple was his first feature film, Sternberg’s career had been a long and diverse one, often involving writing and producing small shows in New York City. Sternberg says his specialty is happy endings that aren’t sappy endings. No saccharine chick-flick gems are on his resume. Instead, the writer-director gravitates toward independent films that are genuine, gritty and positive.
The DVD release of Love Simple is being distributed by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart and Synergetic, and can soon be found on Netflix. For a little film, it’s really getting around.
by Molly Mackin