Leaving the Showroom Cinema as the closing credits for Mia Hansen-Løve’s Goodbye First Love rolled, I heard several older members of the audience discussing the film.
‘Makes me glad I’m not young any more,’ said one, to the general agreement of those with her. Even from the point of view of someone who is young, it is not difficult to understand this impression of Goodbye First Love, meticulously filmed and based on Mia Hansen-Løve’s personal adolescent experience.
The audience almost instantly becomes a part of the powerful relationship between Parisian teenagers Camille and Sullivan, as we observe both its intensity and playfulness in opening scenes in which the couple journey to and from each other’s houses, make love and inevitably dispute.
However, the crux of the narrative arrives with Sullivan’s announcement of plans to travel to South America for a year with friends. Lola Créton’s Camille, until this point a picture of Gainsbourgian charm and insouciance, is devastated by this, and so begins the journey pointing inevitably to Goodbye First Love’s subtitle: ‘If you love me, let me go’.
The pair’s retreat to a family cottage in the country preceding Sullivan’s departure is a masterfully filmed, sun drenched affair, and from many angles the film’s high point. This is especially so for Sebastian Urzendowsky as Sullivan, who shows an impressive calm and maturity in treating an emotional Camille.
But, despite their surroundings, the couple are well aware of what is coming. Again, as viewers we are in helpless suspense, hoping and waiting with Camille as she receives letters from Sullivan and plots his progress across South America with pins in a large map. Almost inevitably, Sullivan’s letters start to dwindle in length and affection- with catastrophic consequences for Camille as the century of their love draws to a symbolic close.
With the dawning of the year 2000, Camille’s reinvention of herself in a ‘five years later’ style time-leap is at once encouraging and portentous: despite her success at her architecture degree, new boyfriend and job at a nightclub, her parents have divorced and the outline of Sullivan in Camille’s life never seems to have completely faded.
Lola Créton must be commended for her turn as Camille: not only does she have an obvious Gallic charm and grace, but she remains unflinchingly natural in a role of great sensitivity. In renouncing her past with her present, and her present with her future, Camille illustrates many of the lessons in love, and in life, which must be experienced personally to be fully felt and understood.
For the young, then, Goodbye First Love is a film which will very possibly depict all too real current affairs of their own lives. For older viewers, meanwhile, a phase of life now part of distant memory will be recalled through the atmospheric setting and skillful cast.