Magazine article Screen International

Goodbye First Love

Magazine article Screen International

Goodbye First Love

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Mia Hansen-Love. France-Germany. 2011. 110mins

Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse), Mia Hansen-Love's third feature as writer/director, presents a conundrum. Praised to the skies and beyond by French scribes, this Locarno Competition title is either a sustained, brilliantly modulated act of cinematic grace for which all serious filmgoers should be grateful, or a patience-testing exercise in compound nebulousness that comes perilously close to being a caricature of a boring European art film.

The film's effectiveness boils down to whether or not we care about the fallout from Camille's all-or-nothing view of romance and coupledom.

At the film's outset in 1999, 15-year-old Parisian Camille (Lola Créton) is completely wrapped up in her compulsive love for Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), her 19-year-old lover-cum-soulmate. Before he takes a 10-month trip to South America he tells her "It isn't the end of the world." But for her, it is. This is a sentimental education where it takes forever to get a diploma. Hansen-Love portrays the aftermath of first love as a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Too sincere to be called pretentious, the film is a record, in three acts (set mostly in 1999, 2003 and 2007) of Camille's progress toward a life no longer ruled by her pining for Sullivan, whose letters from another continent cease to arrive while he's still across the ocean.

The film covers almost a decade in elliptical bursts that would be wrenching if one had an emotional investment in the central character. But young Camille is dour, cranky and unreasonably possessive and Sullivan's alleged charm is muted. They ride a horse through a field, they pull fruit off a tree while insects hum -we have a privileged window on their intimacy but they remain ciphers.

Sullivan has not led her astray or ruined her reputation. There is no threatening social subtext. So the film's effectiveness boils down to whether or not we care about the fallout from Camille's all-or-nothing view of romance and coupledom. While it's safe to assume that most humans past puberty have experienced gradations of passion, rejection and fulfilment, we are given precious little to care about.

Obliged to move forward although her emotions are still pegged to the past, Camille attempts suicide the same way she does everything else - not as a grand gesture but as an insular, barely perceptible one. …

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