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Goodbye First Love

Theatrical Review

Sundance Selects; 110 minutes

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve

Written by on April 20, 2012 

The subject of one’s first love is a tricky thing to capture on film. There’s a mystical tint to the days, months, or even years that one spends ensconced in the presence of the first person to whom the word “love” first attaches itself in one’s mind. Places, songs, foods, people, ideas… they all become branded with the name of the person we shared them with, and as such become entwined with the emotional attachments as well.

Goodbye First Love is a film that understands that the concept of a first love is not a simple matter of person and time. It goes far beyond that, and the emotional echoes of those moments will last for long after the relationship itself is over. Love doesn’t die, it just hides and bides its time, waiting for the moment where it can finally remind you of how it felt to be there.

Camille (Lola Créton) learns this lesson the hard way, and in doing so imbues the film with both its moral and its heart. At fifteen she is in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) who loves her in return, but lets youthful wanderlust take him to South America at the height of their impassioned triste. They fill what time they have left with a trip to the country and stolen afternoons together. Their happiness is broken now and then by her sorrow at his coming departure, though he promises fealty and loyalty.

That these promises dissolve before long should come as no surprise. Camille attempts to pick up the pieces of her idealized future through architecture and work, passionately pursuing her craft while trying to bury or otherwise forget the past. In these passages, as well as those that precede it showing her halcyon days with Sullivan, the film evinces a deep and nuanced understanding of the push and pull between immediate happiness and the fear and loneliness of gazing toward the future, as well as the sudden desolation of being alone and the paralyzing yearning of something long past. In it’s final act, these deep and sometimes painful realities are even better realized. Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve displays a keen awareness of the sort of impact that all of these tensions have on a person, and conveys them beautifully.

Yet, in spite of all the emotional truth and blunt honesty on display, there is something about this film that holds me back from the kind of rapturous response one might expect. These moments seem to come packaged in too much ancillary plot or story. The narrative is not convoluted, just more fatty than one might expect. There are moments that drag and could have been excised without any loss of story impact. At times I wondered if the story knew where it was going, and while the eventual acts and revelations restored my faith in the overall vision, I still cannot shake the feeling that some things were inserted without much thought to necessity in story terms, or their impact on the pace.

That shouldn’t detract potential admirers, however. Movies that understand so innately the way in which our first loves affect and control us are rare, and to find one so well acted and well written is rare. Whatever stumbles this film has in the time in between these greater, more deft segments is more than made up for by those gleaming instances where you flinch because the actuality of life on display is so acute, and so painfully familiar.

Goodbye First Love is now in limited release.


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