As one of the old teachers in an episode of Fame once commented: ”Ah, young love. Wouldn’t relive it for the world.” Goodbye First love (a.k.a. Un amour de jeunesse) is an account of the first and all-consuming relationship of Camille, who at its start is 15. The object and reciprocator of her love is Sullivan, who is four years older. Camille pours her all into this love, and is devastated and borderline suicidal when Sullivan decides to go on a ten-month trek through South America with two friends. The movie follows Camille’s life as she attempts to deal with the loss of Sullivan, who stops writing to her after a few months, and doesn’t get back in touch even after his trip. For years Camille pines for him and can think of no one else.
Eventually, several years later, when studying architecture, Camille enters into a relationship with one of her teachers, the much older Lorenz, a Norwegian architect. But then Camille chances to meet Sullivan’s mother, and gives her her phone number, in case Sullivan wants to say hi. They meet again, and have an affair while Lorenz is away for a few days. Camille quietly comments that she is doomed to love Sullivan forever and never know why. Sullivan, now as before, is never properly committed to the relationship, and they don’t agree on much of anything; their relationship is essentially based on sex and the kind of emotion that comes from this powerful animalistic sensuality.
The movie is well-made and expertly describes Lord Byron’s statement that “Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence.” But it also describes love as primarily a sexual rather than a romantic thing, which is actually quite reasonable and realistic, and rarely done in movies. The director has clearly set out to describe the initial idyl and perfection of young love and sexual awakening, and also the crushing sadness of attempting to deal with its end. Camille is a person who has decided to live entirely for love, and if she can’t do that then she is profoundly unhappy. But since the love she feels is predominantly erotic love, there is also a sense that it is puppy love rather than real love. Camille’s obsession with Sullivan must come to an end, however, as the title of the movie intimates, and the final encounter with him provides closure and the courage and resolve to let go of her attachment to him.
Love is a thing of many-colored splendor, beautifully evoked by the sequences of natural beauty early in this movie, and again at the end. There are many versions and permutations of love, and while some people define their whole being through a particular relationship, others see love as simply something that happens along the way, while they’re busy making other plans. I remember an excellent character portrayal by Mary McDonnell in a TV drama (Woman Undone from 1996), where she commented that “People shouldn’t be everything to each other.” Love is not necessarily just about a relationship between two people; it can also be about a general attitude to the world; loving life, nature, the universe and everybody in it. Goodbye First Love chronicles one kind of love through the eyes of a lovesick young girl, and it succeeds admirably in making the audience feel what she feels, but it also explains that letting go of an unconstructive obsession is the only way in which we can mature and go on and evolve.
The music in the movie is a chapter of its own; long sequences are soundtracked by evocative songs which are a joy to listen to.
The DVD screener is nice and crisp and the menus are well-designed. There are no particular extras.
Goodbye First Love is out in the UK on September 10.
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cast: Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowski, Magne-Håvard Brekke and others.
Runtime: 110 min.
Country: France / Germany