NOTE: Though I saw this movie at the 2011 New York Film Festival, I've been reluctant to post a review until it's become available for moviegoers to see it. Goodbye First Love has now found distribution, and it's worth seeking out, so I decided to post my review now.
To see more movies like Mia Hansen-Love's Goodbye First Love would be like feeling the heat being turned on in a cold movie theatre. The American cinema is almost devoid of films that deal with real stories of passion and growth (particularly as seen through female eyes), and so this French filmmaker's newest (after her much acclaimed 2009 effort Father of My Children) fills an unnatural void in cinema storytelling. I'll admit: I adore movies about first loves, as I feel it's an important subject that gets short shrift. Everybody remembers the spiraling feeling of being so entranced by another for the first time, and how each subsequent bout with romance pales in comparison. So why aren't there more movies like this--movies to which everyone can relate? I suppose we have to rely on the lovely French to provide this sort of thing for us...
Here, the adorable Lola Creton plays Camille, a young Parisian in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). She's lives perhaps too much in the moment, while he has other things on his mind--Sullivan's starting to lose focus on his romance with Camille, and is redirecting it towards his upcoming tour of South America, as he's hungering to find out more about himself. Camille, meanwhile, has made her whole world about what Sullivan does, and this mindset sends her into bedlam. She thinks his upcoming absence will destroy their relationship, and her along with it, so we spend the first act of the film vascillating between extremely sexy romps and woeful, teary fights (my favorite shot in the movie has a sad-mouthed Camille crawling to the snide Sebastian, begging for a forgiveness she shouldn't need). Even with all this drama, there are a few light-dappled moments of total bliss delicately placed by director Love for balance.
Sullivan does what he will, and the film continues to follow Camille, her soul stolen, as she trepidatiously steps her way through university as an architecture student. As she follows Sebastian's progress with stickpins on a map, she launches into a mature affair with her fortysomething teacher (Magne-Havard Brekke), but her mind is almost always elsewhere, with wherever Sullivan is. The hold he has on her is powerful and, even after seven years have passed, strong feelings remain and difficult choices have to be made.
Goodbye First Love is gorgeous simplicity itself. Quiet, and yet scored with superb source music choices, it trades in the real and recognizable without ever falling into cliche. It's an extremely small-scaled movie, anchored by Caton's beautifully naive performance, and it'll get you reminiscing about your own first love. As that hat floats downstream in its final majestic shot, it'll have you wondering how you let such a great thing go, if you let it go at all. And it'll leave you marveling at how you got where you are.