Goodbye First Love

Goodbye First Love

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

No symbolism, no foreshadowing, no filmic tricks to manipulate the audience into believing sentimental rewriting of personal histories in Goodbye First Love. Mia Hansen-Løve paints a picture of time and adolescent longings in as real a film about first love as it gets.

Paris, February 1999. Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) rides his bike to visit his girlfriend. He wears a scarf and has it pushed up over his mouth and nose, not because this is a metaphor for something (silence, gangster, etc) but because it is winter and we are in Paris, where it is cold and smoggy on a bike and you want to protect yourself.


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As Mies van der Rohe may have said: "God is in the details." Perceptions make this film such a pleasure to watch. Everything feels believable, real, and thought through. When Camille (the lovely Lola Créton, who is still a teenager) threatens her boyfriend: "If you leave me, I'll jump into the Seine", it should be read as such, an expression of how she feels, not a hint at what is about to take place later on. "If you cut your hair, I'll kill you," is the guy's equivalent to her exaggeration. One may want to note though, that in both half-playful verbal threats it is the girl who ends up dead…

Sullivan (who is not completely innocently named, the director told me after the press conference) wants to travel. He drops out of school, and plans a ten-month-long trip to South America with his pals. Camille (not named after the Greta Garbo movie, but because the name is gender neutral in French, and doubles the double Ls from the name Sullivan, I was told) is not invited to come along.

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Sullivan has to sell a small painting he inherited from his grandfather to afford the plane ticket. The art dealer he brings it to, tells him it was a fake and offers less money. In a more conventional film, the audience would be told if the dealer is a crook. Not here, just as in real life, we will never know.

Before Sullivan's departure, the young couple spends some time alone in her family's vacation home in the Ardèche. It is summer by now, and the sour cherries are ripe for picking on the trees, the air is calm. Actions show clearly where their conflicted minds are at. When Sullivan goes grocery shopping on his bike, he decides to take a swim in the Loire, forgetting that Camille is waiting, or perhaps provoking her.

In a significant scene that ends their vacation, he cooks for her. He serves her meat with vegetables and he only eats meat. They sit at the ends of a long table, like two children playing king and queen in a castle. He asks if she wanted mustard, she does. They dine, and then she crawls on the bench towards him. Any distance is too much for her.

When he is in South America, she pushes pins into a map, tracing his trip via the letters he sends. She wears his scarf a lot and time passes, and letters come and stop coming. Camille grows up, hair is cut, suddenly Camille's mother (Valérie Bonneton) asks about the father's girlfriend. No exposition is necessary, we find out as an aside that the parents must have got divorced at some point. It is the seasons, the flowers in a vase or the length of hair that give the clues to the passing of time, just how it is done in a good novel. Once in a while, an exact date is inserted, Camille goes to school, studies to become an architect, works at odd jobs.

Hansen-Løve never gives information, she creates a mood and colours a moment. "You take light for granted," says Lorenz, Camille's architecture professor and later lover, to his students. Stage actor Magne Håvard Brekke, already worked with the director in The Father Of My Children (2008), based on the life of late producer Humbert Balsan, and his Lorenz has many nuances "Start from darkness," is good advice.

When Sullivan returns into the narrative, he visits Paris from Marseille. The French title of the film does not include the "goodbye" and the answer to an important riddle can be found in a pile of laundry, folded on a bed in Sullivan's parent's house.

I remarked to Hansen-Løve about her painterly use of colours, specifically the way she positions objects and clothes in reds, blues, and whites. She was happy that I did not mistake it for metaphor, as it is the sensual quality that makes her place a red bikini in front of a bright blue summer sky. She referred to Eric Rohmer, who once said, that every film has a color. "Obviously, this one is red."

At the press conference, the very shy Lola Créton, (who was discovered by Hansen-Løve when she saw her on TV in Catherine Breillat's Blue Beard) said only one sentence: "Everything happened with softness and care." The actress was dressed all in red.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2011
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The emotional journey of a teenager is traced when her boyfriend leaves to travel the world.
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