My first love, John, in heady and hormonal high school days, at turns thrilled me with absolute adoration and tormented me with mysterious wanderings and betrayal. So too suffers the heroine of this delicate French film about first love and lust.
2011 French film Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse) is the final instalment in the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s 4-film retrospective series honouring director Mia Hansen-Løve. Fifteen-year-old Camille (Lola Creton) is thoroughly entangled in that naïve, trusting and all-consuming passion of teenage first love. Though her lovably charming beau Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) seems truly smitten with her, he perplexes her constantly with professed dreams of freedom and independence.
While Sullivan seems to mysteriously come and go, inexplicably showing up late or leaving her waiting for days, we never really know exactly what he’s been up to, nor why. Not knowing when or if she will see him again, Camille’s pre-occupation for him grows all the more absolute, obsessive. She lies depressed in wait, refuses to get out and live her life, and feels certain she will die without him.
He returns to her warm welcome, and aside from a few scoldings and fights, they go on a beautiful summer trip together in the pastoral French countryside, bathing in the sun and clear river – becoming the very image of idyllic love. Much like Camille, the viewer gets drawn in to the beauty and honesty of their time together. A picture is painted for us of “what could be”, and we feel unsure when or how it will come crashing down.
But as the older and wiser viewer could predict, it’s not long before our Don Juan makes an exit again, this time for an apparent 10-month trip with a friend to South America. Camille, never having been invited to come along, and after many hopeless pleas for him to stay, cries herself into oblivion upon his departure.
Her family feel for her, yet seem to chalk it up to a teen phase of melodrama, which, in a way, it is. This film reveals the questions, but not the answers (quite rightly so, perhaps because there are none), as to why first love is so desperately clingy, so devastatingly intense, and quite often even self-destructive.
He writes her less and less, mixing declarations of adoration with admissions of sleeping with others, until the letters stop entirely and she finally stops waiting. With an albeit slow-ish pace and slightly choppy editing, we flash forward incrementally through about 8 years, then land in her present in architecture school.
Seemingly strong, independent, and having forgotten Sullivan long ago, Camille appears to have found her stride. We see talent and passion in her budding career, which also catches the eye of her older yet charming professor, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). As Camille and Lorenz fall in love and start a life together, a chance encounter on a bus leads to Sullivan’s re-entry into Camille’s now changed world.
As much as we want to warn Camille “Don’t do it, don’t go back”, the curiosity of what could have been pulls at us, the same way it pulls at Camille. Sure enough, she falls back into the familiar lullaby of past love, where Sullivan courts her with such endearment and seeming sincerity. Camille is torn and tries to juggle relationships with both men for a time. Without plot-spoiling any more than the film’s title already does, I will stop my recount of the story at this point, and hope you feel inclined to watch the film yourself to see the rest.
I felt like this film rang so true with me, perhaps because it was so close to my own experience, although I think it may be similar to most people’s experiences of the first love and loss. A male friend of mine who watched it with me didn’t feel he could relate specifically to her experience, but did feel a compassion and an understanding for what Camille went through. Whether it’s a female perspective, or just that of a hopeless romantic, I certainly felt drawn to the honest and bare emotions in this film.
Let it be an extra bonus for you that not only is this 2011 film screening in the TIFF Bell Lightbox, but the audience will also be treated to an in-person introductory speech by the director herself, Mia Hansen-Løve.
Goodbye First Love screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, August 25 at 5 p.m. as part of the series Films in Fathers and Daughters: The Films of Mia Hansen-Løve. For more info, visit tiff.net.
Cast: Lola Creton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Håvard Brekke
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve