So far in her short career, French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve has applied an unfussy, warm realism to experiences and memories from her life: she fictionalises existing people and past events to create a shadow of reality. She placed a version of her late producer, Humbert Balsan, at the heart of her second film, ‘The Father of My Children’ (2009), and here she explores her own teen romance for a drama that stretches over a decade in the life of a young woman, Camille, who is something of an alter ego of the filmmaker.
Camille (Lola Créton) develops from being a nervous, paranoid 15-year-old in the throes of first love to a young professional working in the nourishing world of architecture, but who is unable to shake the memory and influence of her first boyfriend, Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Early scenes show Camille and Sullivan as lovers suffering under the strain of Sullivan’s desire to be a free spirit and Camille’s precocious, claustrophobic belief that ‘he’s the love of my life’. Later, as they part, we observe a slow maturing in Camille as the years pass and she reaches her twenties.
We move from the intensity of first love to absence and attempts to mature, but this is a coming-of-age story that’s as much about the teenager we carry with us as the adult we become when we shed our childish ways. If anything, it suggests that those ways persist and should be taken seriously and not easily or simply dismissed as juvenile or annoying.We see the months and years pass in sly shots of calendars and diaries, although if that makes ‘Goodbye First Love’ sound like a French version of ‘One Day’, it should be said that Hansen-Løve’s style is strictly unmelodramatic and she’s wary of allowing the big events in her characters’ lives to get in the way of a more sideways, fluid study of behaviour and emotion. You imagine that the spirit of Eric Rohmer hangs heavily over her approach to filmmaking.
This avoidance of obvious emotional peaks and troughs stretches into the absence of a score and the presence of a few choice songs on the soundtrack. It can be a challenge to the viewer, and we must allow ourselves to go along with Hansen-Løve’s laidback approach to pacing if we’re to reap the benefits of her anti-sentimental approach to storytelling. ‘Goodbye First Love’ offers a rewarding lesson that life isn’t like a movie and that, when a movie is like life, it can come with life’s banalities and frustrations as well as its surprises and pleasures. Incidentally, this being a French film, we learn too of another obstacle that gets in the way of true love: train strikes.