by Jim Ridley
Watch the trailer for Goodbye First Love, opening tonight at The Belcourt, and tell us this doesn't look like the guiltless romantic wallow we've been awaiting. (It reminds us of nothing so much as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg without the music.) James Cathcart falls in love with it himself in this week's Scene:
When movies try to portray how people fall in love, or out of it, they typically erect a scaffolding of contrivances that bears little relationship to what really happens. Think of Scarlett O'Hara's passions, fanned by wartime deprivation and burning hotter than Atlanta; the chain of coincidences that brings Bogie and Bergman back together, then just as quickly apart; or all the maneuvering required to rig up a chance encounter between a society girl and a destitute artist aboard the Titanic's ill-fated maiden voyage. Less dramatic, maybe, but no less a phenomenon is the commonplace miracle of love — a process whose universal simplicity, yet individual complexity, is too mysterious to wind up neatly by the third act. By inflating it with artificial drama, while losing sight of its humble power, the cinema betrays love.
That can't be said of Goodbye First Love, the sublime third feature by French actress turned filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve (The Father of My Children). It's even more of a triumph because movies about love between young people are so often false and sentimental, compounded by a patronizing treatment of adolescent emotion as a precious whim. The questions Hansen-Løve asks of her young protagonists, by comparison, cut to the heart: Are longing and heartache any less real for being born from naivete? Is teenage infatuation something we grow out of, or a prolonged condition we carry into our adult lives?
The movie introduces 15-year-old Camille (Lola Créton, from Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard) in 1999, at the height of her infatuation with her charming yet preoccupied older boyfriend Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Though Sullivan seems to reciprocate Camille's love, his extra years put him closer to adulthood than his lover, and distracted by the world now at his feet. In the spirit of the titular character from Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (after which we may assume he was named), he hastily drops his college courses, sells an heirloom, and departs for a 10-month trek through South America. Neither he, she, nor we know it will become indefinite. ...