Release date: September 10th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 110 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French
Writer and director: Mia Hansen-Love
Cast: Lola Creton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Havard Brekke
The all consuming angst of adolescence is something everyone can relate to. Intertwined with those memories of languorous summer days and the trials and tribulations of tumultuous friendships is a general and never-ending struggle to come to terms with the world and to begin to feel comfortable within one’s own skin. This is further hampered by the unrivalled awkwardness of our fledgling carnal desires and preconceptions of what relationships should and will be. In short, falling in love ain’t so easy when you’re a teenager – much like everything else.
Each of us can cast an eye back at our formative years and, undoubtedly, pinpoint the person we would consider to be our ‘first love’. Whether this is the high school sweetheart, an unrequited infatuation or the fleeting tryst at Sixth Form, that first relationship can, and usually does, colour our later ones to some extent. At the time though, we can’t imagine it informing our future romantic endeavours as there could surely be none; the emotion we feel is ingrained so deeply in our soul that there can never be another.
Recreating such a memorable period in everyone’s lives is no easy task but it’s the one that Mia Hansen-Løve decided to undertake in the making of her third feature film, Goodbye First Love. The story revolves around the relationship of Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) who we’re introduced to with the latter in his late teens and studying at University whilst the former is a little younger at fifteen. He’s a free spirit who’s currently saving for an excursion to South America with his pals, leaving the lovelorn Camille at home in Paris.
The situation will be completely recognisable to people as the film begins; Camille is much more in love with Sullivan than he is with her. She thinks of him every single minute of the day and a malaise descends upon her if they row or when he doesn’t call or text. He, on the other hand, greatly values his freedom and finds it difficult to provide his love with the constant attention that she craves. Naturally, this is particularly problematic with regards to his trip. Although she has a map stuck to her wall upon which she keeps track of his movements with pins, Camille was desperate for Sullivan not to go and as his letters speak of other women their relationship disintegrates. Finally, the letters stop coming.
Eight years later, Camille has cut her hair and is an architecture student. Her clearly stuttering love life is repaired by her enigmatic Scandinavian teacher, Lorenz (Magne-Havard Brekke), and her life seems to have improved from the days of pining over her first love. A chance encounter with Sullivan’s mother on a bus, however, sees them come face-to-face again after all these years and unsurprisingly becomes a spanner in the works.
Hansen-Løve’s major success with this film is her wonderful ability to create the precise mood that she requires. In making the Camille the film’s protagonist – quite besides the clearly autobiographical nature of the project – the director gives us a very specific time and place in all of our lives to drift back to. The film brilliantly evokes that period of longing and utter devastation perfectly by recreating the heartache; however, in other areas it falters a little.
The original title, Un Amour de Jeunesse (Young Love), might give a more accurate suggestion as to the film’s tone than the English one. The second half (there are two acts rather than three) seems only to confirm the consistency of Camille’s feelings for Sullivan rather than seeing her move on from them properly. Thus the film shies away from doing many of the things that the audience is expecting. Whilst this, in itself is admirable, it also means not really giving a conclusion which satisfies on an emotional level when we have to a large extent been expecting one.
The performances from the two leads are fairly good but Créton fails to be quite as convincing as a smart, hugely talented 23-year-old architectural student as she is as a despairing teenager in love. This is largely because the characters don’t really grow in the eight years between acts. Camille is still a romantic idealist who feels that nobody can come close to her love for Sullivan, even Lorenz.
Regrettably, this means that Camille never gives Sullivan what he deserves – a slap. The film seems to be awfully forgiving of its male lead, a conceited young man who gives no thought to others and cares not a jot for his girlfriend’s feelings despite professing their deep connection. He stops writing because he can’t get her out of his mind when he’s with other women and he wants to be able to. When he shows up in the latter half, we’re hoping that he will still be in love with Camille and that she will have moved on – but things have hardly changed that much. Ultimately, we end up hoping that someone will give her that slap instead.
So whilst its first half does a wonderful job of creating a sense of atmosphere – especially the couple’s summer holiday to a family holiday home – it unfortunately fails to deliver what the audience, or at least I, expected from it’s conclusion. As such it remains slightly unclear what it is that Hansen-Løve was hoping to say with the film. She certainly tackles the importance of young love as well as its pitfalls but we’re never given much insight into Camille’s final thoughts.
Some people may watch this and by able to revel in it’s evening sunlight, I for one would’ve liked a little more character development in its second act to give the film a bit of extra dramatic impetus, and a more satisfying conclusion.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.