Goodbye First Love (Un Amour de Jeunesse) is a French film about a young woman's relationship with her first love over a span of eight years, supposedly based on director/writer Mia Hansen-Løve's own experience. I say supposedly because the relationship portrayed strains the most minimal credulity even when considered that it's being seen through the distorted lens of romantic memory. To be fair, the film did garner a certain amount of critical praise in some circles. But for me, it was more than a bit of a reach.
Before I get to the plot, I will say one very positive thing about Goodbye First Love - it has some of the most beautiful cinematography of any film I've ever seen. Stéphane Fontaine, the cinematographer for this film, is a master of the use of natural light in photographing everything from the actors to the settings to the background scenery, making the film at once both breathtakingly beautiful while seeming completely natural on a level rarely seen in film. If you can put up with the inanity of the script, Fontaine's work here is a thing to behold, the kind of work film students would want to study and possibly emulate. If it wasn't for this, I would've rated it two stars, tops.
The film begins with two young lovers, Camille (Lola Crèton), a 15-year-old high school student, and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a college student, engaging in leisurely idyllic sex. Camille is totally infatuated with Sullivan, but while Sullivan talks about love, he is actually getting ready to drop out of college and go adventuring in South America with some friends. Without Camille. But of course until that moment comes, he still wants sex. The film moves along - very very slowly, pacing is a definite problem here - until finally Sullivan leaves. No parting scene, he's just gone. Camille pines, the promised letters turn out to be postcards, and the postcards soon dwindle to nothing. Camille eventually gets over Sullivan, enters college where she studies architecture and becomes involved with one of her professors, a much older man named Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke), eventually moving in and setting up domestically with him, and even wanting to have a baby with him. And then Sullivan shows back up in her life and wacky hijinks ensue. Except that this isn't a comedy.
If it sounds like I'm not taking the film seriously, it's because I can't. What we're being asked to swallow is simply too ludicrous to be granted credulity. *** Warning: spoilers follow. If you don't want to know, skip this next three paragraphs ***
First, we're asked to believe that Camille at 15 is deeply in love with Sullivan, who admittedly is something of a hottie but who's also completely selfish and self-absorbed. He breaks dates with her because he decided to go to a party he'd heard about, never bothering to ask her along. He's utterly indifferent to Camille's feelings about his upcoming leaving. And he very obviously only uses words of love to get sex, his frequent refrain being "Can't we just have sex?" Okay, not a problem. At 15, lots of girls fall for a cute face or body and vague assurances of love, even when the guy's a complete jerk. But it's the stuff that comes after that makes you quit believing what you're being told. Sullivan leaves - again, with no real goodbye - and promptly loses interest, not even sending a post card after a couple of months. Years pass, Camille supposedly gets over him and grows more mature, enters college and becomes a brilliant architecture student, and then gets involved with Lorenz, her much older professor who apparently is quite devoted to her. She moves in with him and supposedly loves him enough that at one point she gets pregnant by him, wanting his child. But then one day she runs into Sullivan's mom, and finds out that not only has Sullivan moved back home, that he's been there for three years and never once tried to get in touch with her. Is she angry? Even a little bit? No. Instead, she wistfully gives Sullivan's mom her phone number "in case Sullivan wants to call."
So of course Sullivan calls, and she meets up with him. In spite of her love for Lorenz, who happens to conveniently be out of town. And Sullivan knows from the moment he sees Camille that sex is going to happen. Both make the expected professions - "We can't... we shouldn't..." - but in no time at all are hot and heavy all over each other. Not only does Camille end up having sex with Lorenz, she has sex with him in the building she's remodeling with Lorenz's team and then in Lorenz's own house! All the while insisting that she loves Lorenz. That's love? Cheating on the man you profess to love by having sex not only frequently but in just about every space you share together? For a guy who left you eight years ago and never once bothered to get in touch with you when he got back?
And then, just when it seems like she's going to continue cheating on Lorenz after he gets back, making plans for a trip to visit Sullivan in the town where he lives with his mother, Sullivan abruptly dumps her yet again, saying he can't bear the love he feels for her and so is ending it. Except that he says he will look her up again someday, in the future when they're both "ready" to follow their love. Which we know really means when he feels like having sex again. And all through this, Camille keeps alternating between professions of love - for Sullivan and for Lorenz - and moony, moody interludes, showing, as the immortal Dorothy Parker once put it, "the gamut of emotions from A to B." And Lorenz remains blissfully clueless throughout. Oh, and Camille loses a hat Sullivan gave her, letting it symbolically flow away in a stream. The end.
An additional problem with Goodbye First Love is that it is supposedly taking place over a period of about eight years, and yet nobody in the film seems to age even the slightest. Camille and Sullivan look exactly the same in their mid-to-late teens as they do eight years later in their mid to late 20's. If you weren't told that that much time had passed, you'd have no way whatsoever of knowing that it had. Some critics have praised this as an artistic device. To me, it just further erodes the film's credibility, another self-indulgent gesture on the director's part in what seems to have been an overall exercise in self-indulgence. You watch and keep watching in the hope that eventually it will all mean something, but it never does. Goodbye First Love isn't a bad movie per se; it's just frustrating and ultimately disappointing.
Recommended for the superior cinematography - and for people who think love means never having to even think about saying you're sorry... or growing up - but not much else.