Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DVD Review: Goodbye First Love

Goodbye First Love
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Written by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Starring: Lola Créton (Camille), Sebastian Urzendowsky (Sullivan), Magne-Håvard Brekke (Lorenz), Valérie Bonneton (La mère de Camille), Serge Renko (Le père de Camille), Özay Fecht (La mère de Sullivan), Max Ricat (Le frère de Sullivan).

Goodbye First Love is about that particular blindness that only teenage girls seem to have. When you’re a 15 year old girl in love with a handsome, slightly older boy, it seems like you are completely blind to all his faults. Camille (Lola Creton) is a stunning French beauty who is head over heels in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who is 19. She’s only 15, but she spends all her time thinking about Sullivan. They argue often, he storms off often, she spends hours in her room crying, and then he comes back, his regular rakish self, and they make up all over again. Her mother doesn’t object to their relationship, but is still worried about her daughter. Why are you in love with this boy? All he does is make you cry, she asks Camille one day. “Tears of joy” is her only response. Try arguing with that.

The movie spans an eight year period, which Camille and Sullivan will mostly spend apart. During their torrid teenage affair, he decides to drop out of University and go backpacking through South America with his friends. “Don’t worry”, he assures her, “It’s only 10 months”. At first she believes the lie – hangs a map of South America on her wall, and tracks his progress with pins from wherever his letters are coming from. But then, as was inevitable, the letters start coming less frequently – they are at times obliviously cruel, and then stop altogether. Camille is devastated – but then moves on.

We meet her again, years later, as she’s studying architecture. She has cropped her hair short, and still pines, at least at times, for Sullivan. But gradually she comes out of her funk. She develops a relationship with one of her professors Lorenz (Magne-Havard Brekke) – who is older, wiser and yet still wears his hair long, like many middle aged men trying to convince themselves that he is still young. The two are comfortable with each other – and despite what we initially think – this is no mid-life crisis fling for Lorenz. These two do love each other – but it isn’t the type of love that rocked Camille’s being as a teenager. So when she runs into Sullivan’s mother one day, and gives her her new phone number, we know it’s only going to be a matter of time before Sullivan shows back up.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Twilight series when I watched Goodbye First Love. No, this movie does not have werewolves or vampires, but its main character shares the same delusion of what love is with Bella – the heroine of the Twilight saga. For both of them, love should be an all-consuming passion. But there is a key difference between these two – and that’s because writer-director Mia Hansen-Love understands how soul destroying that kind of all-consuming love can be – and how unrealistic it is. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert complains that the movie should be harder on Sullivan – even if Camille cannot see it, he really is a jerk – and unlike her, he doesn’t seem to mature as he grows older. But Hansen-Love makes her movie from Camille’s point-of-view – a point of view that cannot help but love Sullivan, despite all his faults. But the audience can see who Sullivan really is, even if Camille cannot.

Goodbye First Love gets deeper as it moves along. At first, it seems like this will be a nostalgic look back at young love – the type most people have, and although they get over it, they never quite forget. The film opens in 1999 in Paris, and sees everything as wonderful and romantic. It would not surprise me to discover that this is, at least partly, based on Hansen-Love’s own experiences – she would have been a few years older than Camille in 1999, but not much. And her first film, The Father of My Children, was also somewhat autobiographical.

But it’s when the movie jumps forward in time that it goes deeper than mere nostalgia – and romantic longing. Because when Camille and Sullivan reunite – and discover that same passion still there – the movie doesn’t swoon like it does in those earlier scenes – there is a sense of sadness in these scenes, and a feeling that these two kids need to grow the hell up.

The performances help a great deal. Magne-Håvard Brekke as the older man isn’t the pervy old guy after hot young flesh that we expect him to be – he’s kind, sweet, trusting and thoughtful. Sebastian Urzendowsky as Sullivan has some of that bad boy attitude that women find so appealing – at least as teenagers, but is also good at showing how less romantic that seems when you grow older. He’s not a million miles away from some of the young men in a Catherine Breillent movie, who always talk the young women in their lives out of their virginity – but is seen much more sympathetically than Breillent could ever conceive. Best of all is Lola Créton, who is perfect as the naïve teenager, and never loses our sympathy even as she makes mistakes later in the movie. She’s a beauty – and a future French star to look out for – a younger Marion Cotillard if you will.
Overall, I think Goodbye First Love is a fine little movie. It’s an improvement over The Father of My Children, which everyone seemed to like more than I did, and shows that Hansen-Love really is a filmmaker to watch out for.

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