GOODBYE FIRST LOVE (Un amour de jeunesse) B
France Germany (110 mi) 2011 d: Mia Hansen-Løve
A gorgeous French film shot on 35 mm (always a treat) which features the on again and off again performance of the lead character, Lola Créton as the obsessive young Camille, a head-over-heels in love high school teenager who seems beside herself at the thought of her cute boyfriend, Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), foregoing college for an extended 10-month trip with friends through South America. While Créton is in nearly every shot of the film, where we view the world through the perspective of her eyes, we also get some opening insight from Sullivan, who seems to be stringing her along for the ride due to her not to be dismissed, uninhibited sex drive, expressed through plenty of nudity early on, where she literally lives for those moments of intimacy, believing this is the ultimate sign of love. Otherwise, however, her mood is downbeat and gloomy, subject to irrepressible Ophelia-like mood swings, threatening to throw herself in the river if he leaves. And therein lies the real problem with this film, as the lead character is too bored to take an interest in herself, leaving the audience floundering and likely divided about maintaining an interest. So much of the film is frontloaded, where this methodical rhythm of the two characters becomes second nature, where the director seems enamored with the methodical, Dardennes style, hand-held camera technique, where the camera literally flows with their body movements, where their so-called passion is usually followed by flare-ups and arguments, where all they really have in common is sex, quite typical of what we’ve come to expect from French films, where sex fills the emptiness.
With a kind of sly precision, Hansen-Løve does an excellent job dissecting the social status of the two families, where both children couldn’t be more spoiled, where Sullivan’s house actually lies on the outskirts of a forest, like a dream house that he routinely accesses on his bicycle. Shot in Germany and Denmark, the film makes excellent use of locations. The film dwells so much on this couple that it comes as an abrupt surprise to learn that he actually leaves, where Camille is tearfully distraught and inconsolable, quickly landing in the hospital, hanging onto every letter for awhile, beautifully expressed by views of Paris in the snow, until it becomes obvious he has other things on his mind. As we see her doing typical high school activities, she blends into this world of youth, cutting her hair short, not standing out particularly but slowly coming out of her doldrums and participating in the world around her. We never see any special attributes or even signs of intelligence, where her character is continually defined by the opening groundswell of hyper mood swings and conflicting emotions that she continues to perceive as love. Créton carries the film with a kind of Sandrine Bonnaire early look in her career, though she hasn’t got a similar flair for exhibiting complex internal adolescent angst, which Bonnaire beautifully delivered without even uttering a word. Instead Camille comes across as a self-centered diva, overly detached, bored, and seemingly without a care in the world at times, an exhausting prima donna who thinks of little else other than herself.
Jumping ahead a few years, Camille’s suddenly become an outstanding student of architecture, initially over personalizing her approach, building fantasia models to fit her own moods, but eventually learning to understand the significance of following a blueprint. Aided by her über architecture professor Lorenz (Magne-Havard Brekke), a brilliant man easily ten or even twenty years her senior, he takes a personal interest in her career which develops into an intimate relationship. Never for a moment is this relationship believable, as she continues to exhibit the attention span and maturity level of a brooding teenager, sneaking out on Lorenz the first chance she gets when of course Sullivan reappears in her life. What follows is a rather detestable series of events, all of it contrived and predictable, one might even say pretentious even though the director takes great pains to unsentimentalize the material. It’s not that the film is completely unrealistic, but there’s some question whether this makes for a good movie, as Camille’s character is high maintenance and too high sprung, where there’s nothing about her that draws the audience to her story. This may be an attempt at a Chekhovian slice of life written by the director, who shares a real life love and child with French director Olivier Assayas, where their stream-of-conscious method can offer fresh insight simply by allowing their characters to breathe, but Créton is simply too detached and openly deceitful to involve an audience for the duration of the film. The film has its moments, but it feels smallish with too few interior revelations, where it’s all about the manner of the game, never really dropping any bombshells.