18 November 2012 | howard.schumann
Paints a striking picture of the impact of first love
Most of us at one time or another have experienced the sacramental beauty of loving another being. Love, however, defies analysis and often does not fit our pictures. From an outsider's point of view, there are more unlikely couples than likely ones, but those who are not in the lover's shoes may be unable to fully understand their feelings. Camille (Lola Créton), in Mia Hansen-Love's third feature Goodbye First Love, is repeatedly told by parents and friends to forget the young man who claims to love her for eternity, but then leaves abruptly on a trip to "discover himself." That she is unable to let go is not a sign of immaturity or madness, but only of the depth of her love and the betrayal she feels.
The 17-year-old Créton (Something in the Air) is stunning both in her appearance and her ability as an actress. There is never a moment when it feels that she is just playing a role rather than being herself. Hansen-Love, herself only thirty one, paints a striking picture of the impact of first love. When Camille meets and falls for the bland 19-year-old Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) at the age of fifteen, her first involvement is both joyous and heartbreaking. To Camille, Sullivan is her world and she is obsessed with him. Overly dramatic, she threatens that if he leaves her, she will "jump into Seine." He responds by saying that "If you cut your hair, I'll kill you," presumably sparing her the trouble of jumping into the Seine. Sullivan's relationship with Camille, though tender, lacks commitment.
For him, it feels as if love is a good idea but not something he feels in his bones and the chemistry between the two is missing in subtlety and depth. On vacation in the idyllic Ardèche region of Southern France, Sullivan dumps on her, relating his plans to drop out of school and backpack through South America for ten months with friends. Obviously, the "friends" part of it does not include Camille. When he is on his trip, she follows his journey via his letters and pushes pins into a map to mark his whereabouts. Though he promises to begin again where they left off, he soon writes to her that he wants to be free. Camille takes it hard, very hard and as time melts away, she is no closer to acceptance than the day she received the news.
Hansen-Love does not give us much information as to the passage of time, but we know that years have passed during which Camille has gone to school to study architecture and has begun to build a new life with Lorenz (Magne Håvard Brekke), a considerably older professor of Architecture. Growing in maturity, she has become a young professional, having apparently moved on from Sullivan, that is, until he comes back into her life, seemingly unchanged both physically and emotionally. Goodbye First Love can be meandering without much happening in the way of narrative and the jumpiness of the editing can be frustrating.
Hansen-Love rarely stays with one scene (especially the love-making scenes) long enough for us to feel any deepening involvement, yet the film succeeds in capturing the extreme mood swings of adolescence with sensitivity and we can relate to the emotional pain a breakup can cause when people's feelings are treated in a cavalier fashion. What also works is the eclectic soundtrack that features Patrick Street, Violeta Parra, Matt McGinn, Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling, music that adds another dimension to the film. While it is not a "message film," what comes through for me in Goodbye First Love is the Buddhist idea that the origin of suffering is attachment to things that are impermanent such as desire and passion. Nirvana, however, is not always comprehensible for those who are fifteen years old.