This is a movie about love: the consuming fall, the crushing heartbreak and the crawl through the trenches of pain on the way to letting go.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s newest film Goodbye First Love follows Camille, played by Lola Créton, a Parisian girl whose growth and maturation is seen through this all-too-familiar trajectory of love. As a young 15-year-old, Lola falls passionately in love with 18-year-old Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Though Sullivan cares deeply for Camille, he “doesn’t want to become too dependent,” and decides to leave Camille in Paris as he journeys to South America.
Left alone, Camille gets sucked into a black hole of pity, anger and sadness from which she is incapable of removing herself. For the next eight years, Camille slowly begins to move on with her life, obtaining a job, attending architecture school and eventually finding love again with her professor, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). But Camille never seems to be fully rid of Sullivan as she keeps a picture on her wall of her parents’ country home where the two of them spent a romantic few days before Sullivan’s departure.
Starkly different from her wild, emotional romance with Sullivan, the charming and soft-spoken Lorenz seems to fit her mature and grounded persona. Camille’s world is shaken up, however, by the reappearance of Sullivan. She gets sucked back into her love from eight years ago, realizing the powerful hold that her first love still has on her heart.
Hansen-Løve allows these pivotal emotions to show not only through the characters’ words, but more subtly through facial expressions, sound and scene construction.
This shines through in the way that Hansen-Løve portrays the inconsistencies between Camille’s and Sullivan’s feelings for each other. When in the countryside, Sullivan intends to go to the store but instead proceeds to swim in the giant lake, leaving Camille sitting outside, alone in the endless landscape, waiting. As she looks to the countryside, not a sound is heard apart from the scores of bees flying around Camille.
Hansen-Løve utilizes this technique consistently throughout the film, adding to Camille’s loneliness and emptiness. The expansive, beautiful French countryside, however, sometimes usurps the attention of the viewer, who is too busy focusing on the gorgeous flowers and lakes to pay full attention to the character.
The director also makes use of the style and setting to subtly express changes in the characters’ lives that, if explained, would merely slow down the tempo of the film. Whether it’s the drastic change in Camille’s hairstyle, her new apartment or her mother now living alone, these stylistic cues allow the audience to pick up and move with the characters, unencumbered by questions of why and how. For just as life changes, so too does the film, and the director has sufficient respect for the audience to treat them as knowledgeable viewers.
Hansen-Løve chooses not to follow the one girl, two guys cliché dilemma; rather, Goodbye First Love reflects on how people grow and move on from the heartbreak of losing a first love. Accordingly, she presents us with a girl unaware of her own lack of self-assurance, who cannot fathom life without Sullivan. Créton offers exactly what the audience looks for in a love-struck 15-year-old, hopelessly soaking up every moment with Sullivan and a second later shunning him in a jealous rage. She captures equally well the torment of being left behind, with long sighs and tears of anguish.
Camille’s spiral into a pit of darkness feels as trying to the viewer as it does to the young girl. Whether it is among a sea of people in a Parisian club or in her apartment glancing at the picture of her country house, her pain keeps her sequestered from the world.
Hansen-Løve familiarizes viewers with Camille’s journey of letting go so that they can relate Camille’s struggles to that of their own. She has no interest in creating a film that rushes through emotions, bringing a character down and back up again equally fast. Instead, Hansen-Løve makes the film resonate with her innate ability to broach such an important and powerful topic with equal amounts of tenderness, subtlety and grace.
After seeing Camille so distraught and closed off, it is difficult not to sigh with relief when she has her first, gentle kiss with Lorenz. On that note, Brekke, who previously worked with Hansen-Løve on Father of My Children, plays his part well and seems to have an acute understanding of the director’s approach; his calm demeanor forces nothing on the audience, leaving it up to them to discern his character. This isn’t to say that Brekke doesn’t put effort into the role, but he seems to understand that this film is about Camille and her journey.
Viewers interested in another sappy, Hollywood teen-romance should steer clear of Goodbye First Love. If, however, you can find beauty in the smallest moments, joy in poetic words, such as “I finally don’t feel burdened by pain,” and if you are willing to follow Camille on an emotionally charged journey — one that many viewers are all too familiar with — Goodbye First Love will not disappoint.