‘Goodbye First Love’ Review
Only the French could make a film about debilitating heartbreak and make it all seem so romantic.
‘Goodbye First Love’, a startlingly accomplished and insightful movie about an idealistic teenage girl’s segue into the messy world of adult relationships, makes no bones about exploiting its Frenchness. The beauty of the language, the cities, the countryside, the progressive parents who don’t blink when their bra-less daughters go upstairs to have sex at the age of fifteen, the purposeful walks through the Louvre – this is all like a bottomless fudge sundae.
For anyone who lives a full-frontal emotional life (or at least aspires to) this is a universal story. It was the great modern philosopher Albus Dumbledore who sighed, “Ah, to be young and feel love’s keen sting.”
Young Camille has wavy hair just one humid day away from anarchy and dark, darting eyes betraying her inner anxiety. She has but one focus in life, to maintain her love affair with the two-years-her-senior Sullivan. Sullivan, however, is planning a lengthy tour through South America with friends, and while he protests that he intends to remain true, her paranoia is not unfounded.
The build-up to Sullivan’s departure is slow, and climaxes with the Frenchiest of weekends in a cabin picking berries and making love. Then, disaster. Sullivan leaves and, since the film begins in pre-smart phone 1999 (it’s a period piece!) Camille is reliant on letters from across the Atlantic. As Paris gets covered in snow, the letters become less frequent until, alas, our young Camille tries to kill herself.
Director Mia Hanson-Love could have taken a cue from some of the recent glut of unimpressive American indies and called it a day, but as it happens here’s where ‘Goodbye First Love’ is just getting warmed up.
After a dissolve to 2003, we check back in with Camille. Her hair is short, she’s wearing brighter colors and is working odd jobs (usher at corporate presentations, cigarette girl at a disco) and studying architecture in college. The young woman has clearly built herself up from scratch, and her passion for design, art and construction is intoxicating.
What follows is an unexpected tangent into the world of architecture, led by Camille’s handsome Norwegian professor who kinda looks like Julian Assange. Soon they are in love, then collaborating on major projects and then, of course, Sullivan returns.
Oh! This all seems so dramatic but, I swear, the tone director Mia Hanson-Love goes for is not histrionics, but naturalism. It’s like Eric Rohmer, but juicier. The film takes its time, but that’s because these feelings are epic. One can watch Camille’s actions and think “you dunce! What are you doing?” but that can only be asked by someone who has never experienced a stultifying case of ‘l’amour fou’.
I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a character truly grow on screen. I honestly don’t know if actress Lola Creton is 15 or 25. She certainly looks young, but if Hanson-Love’s film means anything it’s that we’re always who we are when we first fall in love.
“Your fantasy version of the world is doomed to failure,” Camille is cautioned. And yet, for me at least, Hanson-Love’s portrayal of doom is beautiful enough to be its own fantasy.
‘Goodbye First Love’ opens in select theaters and is available On Demand starting today.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.