Goodbye First Love
Synopsis: Spring, 1999. Camile (Lola Créton) is 15-years-old and head-over-heels in love and lust with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a brooding, husky-voiced boy four years her senior. Too young to be jaded or even realistic about love, the long-haired, open-faced Camille takes her first relationship extremely seriously, but Sullivan wants to go to South America for a year and in autumn, he leaves her. Four years have passed and Camille studies architecture and lives on her own. On a trip to Denmark, she slowly falls for her eloquent Danish professor, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). In many ways he offers her what Sullivan couldn't: stability and a future. But theirs is a rapport constructed on reason more than unbridled passion, and when Sullivan reappears a few years later, Camille find herself caught between tow loves...
Limp romance drama has little chemistry between leads.
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: The passionate, romanticised longing one feels for that very first sexual partner is mired in pretense and artifice in Mia Hansen-Løve’s groaningly slow Goodbye First Love. The young auteur’s third film is an indulgent bore, lacking any of the precise drama or compelling structure that highlighted her past efforts, All is Forgiven (2007) and the Cannes-honoured Father of My Children (2008).
Peopled by blandly familiar caricatures who look pretty but exist in a ‘French movie’ world that never convinces, Hansen-Løve ladles on cliché after cliché in telling the story of mopey Parisian teenager Camille (Lola Creton) and the decade-long obsession she maintains for the first boy she had sex with, an insipid nobody four years her senior called Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky).
Camille is convinced Sullivan is the one, though it takes huge leaps of faith to believe any passion exists between these two at all. Creton and Urzendowsky have zero chemistry together and individually they exhibit no charisma; a weekend spent in a country cottage dissolves into wordless tedium for both the couple and the audience. Locations take on clumsy symbolism throughout Hansen-Løve’s film, their impact negligible.
Sullivan won’t give up a planned South American trip for Camille; despite promising to stay in touch, the letters stop coming a few months into his journey. The petulant Camille sulks around her family home, her parents (Serge Renko, Valérie Bonneton) indulging her endless weeping, until she finally gathers her wits and becomes an architectural student. (How she got accepted into college, given she never seems to have attended school, is anyone’s guess.)
This over-extended mid-section of Hansen-Løve’s film is the most grating. Her Camille becomes yet another young female protagonist who realises her full potential through having sex with an older, wiser man (in this case, her Scandinavian lecturer, played by Magne-Håvard Brekke). This overused character development is condescending and irksome (most recently, it undercut the charm of Lone Scherfig’s An Education); only when exposed in all its shallow fraudulence, in films such as Woody Allen’s Manhattan or Louis Malle’s Damage, is it effective plotting.
Sullivan’s reappearance in Camille’s life after a decade leads to illicit sex in the spare room of her pretty house. All empathy for Camille has dissipated by this stage; Creton is photogenic (everything in Goodbye First Love is photogenic) but maintains the same pouty facade throughout; her characterisation is impenetrable, and denies her audience a starting point to sympathise.
Over the decade that the film takes place, neither she nor Sullivan seem to age at all. Had the film offered any other such subtleties, one might assume that was a deliberate ploy of Hansen-Løve’s to emphasise the stymied emotional growth of her characters. After 110 interminable minutes, though, her plodding drama earns no such faith.
One odd scene resonates if only for its misplaced irony. Struggling to recapture their spark, our pair leaves a local cinema after some stolen moments in the dark. As they walk, they riff on the film’s merits – “It was typically French. The actors are annoying, it’s talky and complacent,” says Sullivan; Camille bites back, “It’s beautiful and deep. You’re not sensitive enough.” A dialogue-driven moment in a film of many long silences, its inclusion here seems to be Hansen-Løve baiting her audience into a debate about the merits of contemporary French cinema. Given the shortcomings of her own film, it’s an ill-advised in-joke, and is perplexing.
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