The Trouble with filming ‘first love’ is that much of the audience will have passed through this phase and will either know vaguely what is going to happen or will disagree with how events unfold. ‘First love’ is also a very personal experience that everyone goes through, giving one person’s story an air of importance may seem unjust, why elevate it over others? But it is a story that must be told, if only because it is such a common experience and to have it missing from our storytelling is a perplexing thought. Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is charming and nuanced without ramifications. Based on Hansen-Løve’s own experience Goodbye First Love is a poignant exorcising of demons, sometimes a little obvious but never dull.
Hansen-Løve uses some very affecting visual metaphors, the changing of the weather a conspicuous element as the story unfolds. 15 year old Camille (Lola Créton) finds her love for Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) blighted by her naivety and his independence. This being first love she is unsure how to continue with the difficulties the couple are facing. She watches a spider crawl across the floor and recoils in fear before tossing a hat over the unfortunate insect, out of sight, out of mind.
Older and worldlier Sullivan is 2 or 3 years older than Camille and is restless in the home city of Paris. He has never felt at home there and does not share Camille’s mantra of ‘love is what I live for’; he says all the right things to get what he wants from her giving little in return. She waits melancholically for him to call, chastising him for his inadequacies before relenting to carnal pleasures. Créton delivers an assured performance which is guaranteed to cause discomfort. She whines and mewls at Sullivan and about him but struggles to move on. She cannot ascertain why she loves him just that she does, more than anything else, more than her dignity.
Sullivan leaves Camille to travel to South America because he can; she attempts vainglorious suicide via the family medicine cabinet because she does not understand how he can. Camille’s character is infuriating in her youth, an exchange about her thoughts on a haircut leads her to proclaim that if Sullivan left her she would kill him and herself, going too far fo his taste. After an argument she literally crawls back to him before he masterfully convinces her that she is forcing him to have sex against his will, tricks a seasoned veteran may use against raw youth.
Though Sullivan corresponds with Camille a while into his trip the letters soon cease to arrive. She begins the process of getting over him, cutting her hair and attending university where she starts a relationship with her middle-aged professor. She grows as a person, Hansen-Løve tenderly capturing Camille finding her own self-worth, asserting her opinions strongly. No more towing the line as confident smiles begin to appear which were missing from her previous incarnation as a self-loathing dependant. Hansen-Løve knows that this is not the end for Camille; there is one more confrontation she must face as the shadow of Sullivan haunts her. A rekindling of the relationship must be more astutely managed by Camille if she is to live through it.
The effervescent pop soundtrack is present to give the impression that this is a very postmodern situation but this kind of tale exists permanently in the Zeitgeist. A jilted young lover that never recovers from her first throws of passion is not new but Hansen-Løve tells a story of romantic austerity that has flashes of a quixotic reality. Not a life changing viewing but a admirable turning of the page for Camille and the director.