Film Review – Goodbye First Love
Goodbye First Love is a character study of young love, with no developed characters, or examination, or realistic love. At the start of the central relationship, they are two typical, over-involved kids. Camille (Lola Créton) is fifteen and certain she is in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), and will be forever. Sullivan is in love, but he dreams of exploring and seeing more of the world. When he decides to travel to South America for ten months, Camille thinks the world is ending. At the start, both sides are played well. Her passion is clear, yet she is smothering and makes him feel bad for wanting to live his own life, even if just for awhile. He, however, is very dismissive of her feelings and seems to only want to be with her on his own terms, only responding to her texts when he wants to and disappearing for extended times. The film shows a balance of blame on both ends.
When Sullivan does leave and the inevitable fading of his feelings for Camille occurs, we continue to follow her as she goes through life still sad that she has lost her love. That is basically the rest of the film. As we jump ahead a few years to when she becomes an adult, she is still sad. Even when she sees him again and they start to interact, Camille is the same person she was when she was fifteen, so there is no sense that the time that has passed or the experiences she has had have changed anything.
Before Sullivan returns, there are several quiet moments of Camille as she goes through life, be it being in class, on her bed, or when she is older at work—and nothing happens. Literally nothing happens in many of these scenes, no interaction or even facial movements by the actors to give a sense of why the scenes exist beyond the director, Mia Hansen-Løve, trying, I guess, to be arty. What she is actually doing is wasting time and making the movie longer and putting more distance between the sequences that do give us insight. These quiet moments even extend to events that should be horrifying and have merit, but now feel off-kilter. Camille, when she is fifteen, does something that should be seen as quite troubling, yet there is no emotion from her family at any time, and it is never mentioned again. Then later, something happens to Camille as an adult that again should be important, yet the moment is arbitrarily thrown in with no set-up and apparently means nothing. It must not actually have meant anything to the director because, like before, it is never mentioned again.
Now, quiet moments in film can be a chance to get some insight into what is going on, and there are many great films that came to mind while watching this, such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and films by the Dardenne brothers. These films take their time and use imagery and quiet moments, but they use them to show us something about their characters or the situation, letting their actors’ faces express what they are going through. In Goodbye First Love, these scenes go on and on, and while there are some moments where we get little expressions or get told that some years have passed, too often no one talks or shows anything resembling an emotion, and you are left wondering why the moment is there.
This lack of emotion is especially true of Lola Créton, who either cannot emote or was given very little to go on from the director. Her expression never goes beyond either being sad about Sullivan being gone or happy that he is there; she is defined solely by her love of Sullivan. So often she has the same blank look on her face, and with no discussion. The only thing else we really know about her at all, besides her love for Sullivan, is that she becomes an architect and has a relationship with her professor and later colleague, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). Sullivan has some more to show, as he is obviously regretful about leaving her and is pained that she is now with someone else. Yet the movie is always told through Camille’s eyes, and she is never able to make any sense of what she wants from him beyond that she wants him. There are never any attempts at examination or insight, and for too much of the film she is just kind of there.
Without giving it away, the ending continues the trend of long takes that add nothing to the whole, to get us to a bit of symbolism which is supposed to give us a sense of where Camille is now. Yet, there is nothing before that point that gives any sense of whether Camille has truly grown or is in the same place she was before. The ending is unearned and so obvious in its symbolism that it screams “I had no idea how to end this and either my actor can’t emote or I won’t let her so I will throw this in and everyone will get it and I can pretend to be clever.”
With so little going on, it was impossible to feel anything for any of the characters. The sense of their problems at the start is all we have to grab on to; after that, the movie doesn’t even seem interested in wanting us to feel anything. It is too enamored with just being on screen. Moment after moment goes by and we keep wondering, “why is this here? When are we going to be given a sense of what is happening between them and what Camille is feeling?” After an hour and twenty minutes, their feelings should be clear, or at least there should be a debate about Camille’s feelings. Instead, I am just happy not to be watching her sit at work anymore.
Final Grade: C-