There’s a moment in most people’s lives where the blurred lines of lust and love finally take shape. Those lines are not yet exposed for Camille (Lola Créton), the wistful young woman at the center of Goodbye First Love. She’s prone to Sullivan’s (Sebastian Urzendowsky) every gesture, where every one of his actions is amplified – for better or worse. Their relationship is one of sexual discovery and immediate sensory satisfaction, but the two lack particular commonalities to pursue any long-lasting relationship. Their relationship is similar to that found in Terence Davis’ The Deep Blue Sea, where a woman becomes enamored with a man who offers unrivaled passion above all else. For Camille, Sullivan offers a foreign emotional landscape - a landscape that promises nothing other than uncertainty.
Goodbye First Love is my first exposure to Mia Hansen-Løve. She develops a particular rhythm in her film that, admittedly, I’m not accustomed to. I hesitate to call the picture slow, as its decade-spanning narrative proceeds with precision and vigor. But she dwells on particular mundane aspects of life, from Sullivan cycling through the streets of Paris to Camille’s wandering through a busy beachfront, which overemphasizes the loneliness of her characters. This sense of loneliness is captured throughout Goodbye First Love. As Sullivan leaves for South America, Camille is left in Paris to continue her education. She weeps over his sporadic letters and presses pins into a map that follows his journey. But the letters suddenly stop. Devastated, the rejection is augmented and felt by the audience.
From here, Hansen-Løve leaps in time, addressing Camille’s recovery. She eventually gets back on her feet, excels in her studies, and falls for another man. Her new relationship is based less on passion and more on mutual respect. The fog that blurs the lines of lust and love still hinder Camille’s decision making though, as she still endures the pangs of lost love.
The picture’s success hinges solely on Lola Créton’s performance. What Hansen-Løve requests from her is no minor task - Créton’s role is to navigate the audience through the messy emotional terrain as both a teenager and young adult, where a sense of growth needs to be felt in an organic way. Créton excels in the role and manages to display advancements in maturity while maintaining a tinge of naivety as the picture progresses.
Goodbye First Love impresses on the basis of what Hansen-Løve decides to convey. It’s not so much that she is rejecting convention, but instead, she is more attuned to the way one recalls memories and experiences. Whether it’s confessing to your mother that you’re melancholic or remembering the first thing your brother said following a failed suicide, Goodbye First Love is just as much a film about experiencing the pangs of heartache as it is about the experience of growing up. The film may not work in particular stretches, but when it does, it speaks from a place of remarkable depth and assurance.