Friday, 4 May 2012

GFT programme note: Goodbye First Love

Goodbye First Love is out today - it's pretty good. not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imaginatino (some of the dialogue is over-ripe to say the least), but it's worth a watch, particularly for anyone who caught and enjoyed Like Crazy earlier in the year. anyway, here's my essay-article-thingy on it, written for the glasgow film theatre...


 Director Mia Hansen-Løve Cast Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Håvard Brekke
France/Germany 2011, 1h50m, subtitles

Director Mia Hansen-Løve’s previous feature Father of My Children (2009) – in which an outwardly happy film producer commits suicide, bereaving a wife and three daughters – was a sensitive and complex study of emotional upheaval. Goodbye First Love initially seems concerned with comparatively trivial travails, as fifteen year-old Camille (Lola Créton) falls emphatically for nineteen year-old Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), only for their relationship to crumble from a combination of juvenile thoughtlessness and time’s natural weathering effects. Yet Hansen-Løve recognises that what may seem histrionic and overblown from an outside perspective, is intensely felt by hormonal minds, and the aftermath of so-called ‘puppy love’ is potentially as destructive as the more profound loss detailed in Father of My Children.

Early scenes depicting Camille and Sullivan’s initial romance capture teenage amour’s fraught dichotomy: on the one hand free and easy, yet also dreadfully burdened, with very afternoon spent apart constituting a devastating betrayal; every disagreement, the eternal end of happiness. Eventually, the volatility prompts a desperate act, but, as in Father of My Children, Hansen-Løve is interested in what happens after, with the film making two relatively sudden jumps forward in time, picking up the story again three years later, and again, several years after that. With each, only the changing length of Camille’s hair initially orientates the viewer to the temporal adjustment.

Recent comments made by Hansen-Løve in Sight and Sound clarify the similarities with Father of My Children. She identifies both works, along with her debut Tout est Pardonné (2007), as a ‘sort of trilogy’, with several commonalities. Of these, ‘survival after mourning or a separation’ and ‘the passage of time’ resonate most obviously with the observations made above,[1] with the latter theme eloquently expressed by Glaswegian songwriter Matt McGinn, whose ‘Little Ticks of Time’ features on the soundtrack. ‘Those little ticks of time know no reason, know no rhyme/ they just ticky-ticky-tick-tick-tock the time away’ sings McGinn, playfully musing upon time’s impassive momentum, just as the film’s tri-part structure coolly foregrounds its healing capacities – the only guaranteed cure for adolescent heartbreak, Hansen-Løve seems to suggest, is the leaving behind of adolescence itself. Sullivan’s insistence on the importance of new experiences is initially framed as immature self-absorption, but the film eventually seems to endorse his message (if not its callous use as justification for deserting his girlfriend), with Camille’s maturation framed in terms of her vocational training as an architect, and her relationship with Danish lecturer Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke.)

Throughout the film, the flow of water acts as a metaphor for the flow of time: parallel scenes set in the Loire valley chart Camille’s increasing independence; an embassy restoration is fitted with a fountain in which water is ‘channelled’ but ‘free’; while the theme is given its own soundtrack motif in the recurring form of Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling’s The Water (key lyrics: ‘please help me build a small boat/ one that’ll ride on the flow... I’m glad of what keeps me afloat’ – sentiments that also chime with the aforementioned ‘survival’ theme). In the closing scene, this dovetails with another key symbol – the straw hat given to Camille by Sullivan. Earlier in the film, Hansen-Løve irises in on the hat at the moment of purchase, then out again to show it atop Camille’s head – a flashy edit that prepares the audience for the prop’s subsequent symbolic importance, as it floats downstream in the ambiguous conclusion.

Another of Hansen-Løve’s noted themes is ‘learning to become oneself, and to be free.’[2] Personal development is self-consciously highlighted in a conversation with Lorenz, in which Camille declares ‘only the future counts. Those past years, up until we met, were nothing, a void. Just a lot of pain.’ ‘You shouldn’t reason like that’ counters Lorenz. ‘At your age, nothing is in vain. Life is never what you expect. Your fantasy-version of the world is doomed to failure. It’s up to you to create one that’s deeper, more… real. That’s how you become yourself.’

Goodbye First Love is essentially a dramatisation of that process – one with roots in the writer/director’s personal biography. There are overt parallels between Hansen-Løve’s own experiences and those onscreen – in particular, the relationship between Camille and older mentor Lorenz, which echoes aspects of that between Hansen-Løve and partner Olivier Assayas, who cast her in Late August, Early September (1998) when she was seventeen and he was in his forties (they became a couple three years later). Hansen-Løve has encouraged this connection, explicitly identifying with Camille: ‘Love was everything to me [as a teenager]’ she states in an interview with The Observer, sharing details of a ‘very powerful relationship’ that took place between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, the end of which left ‘a void’ in her; ‘yes, that’s me’ she goes on to unequivocally confirm.[3] Understanding the narrative’s autobiographical origins is not integral to an appreciation of Goodbye First Love, just as admiration of Father of My Children was not predicated on a familiarity with the sad fate of French film producer Humbert Balsan (who committed suicide aged fifty, and on whom the character of Grégoire was based.) But nor is it irrelevant, with the film’s bracing honesty (though not always, it must be admitted, its dialogue) ringing true in a way that’s difficult to feign.

Dr Christopher Buckle
Researcher and Journalist
May 2012

[1] Mia Hansen-Løve, ‘A complex simplicity’, Sight and Sound, May 2012, p. 53
[2] Ibid, p. 53
[3] Jason Solomons (2012) ‘Mia Hansen-Løve: the broken heart that made me a film-maker’, The Observer, 29 April 2012, accessed at

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