“I’ll always love you and never know why,” Camille says to her boyfriend Sullivan, a romance in the French film “Goodbye First Love” based only on the idea that it is their first. The point the movie is making is that perhaps that’s enough, but even the film is too caught up in these longing moments to suggest anything substantive or true.
The film starts in 1999 when Camille (Lola Creton) is only 15 yet dating a college student, Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Their chemistry is built on their sexuality and little else, so when he drops out of school and leaves for South America on a whim, Camille should be good to be rid of him. But she’s a miniature drama queen, threatening suicide and pondering what she’ll do without him as she lays on beds in the fetal position and leans emptily against walls. They exchange letters, but it’s not enough. “I can call, but I won’t,” Sullivan explains. “Hearing you won’t be the same without touching you.”
These are romance novel lines befitting a teenager, and perhaps these empty words mean a lot to them. But some months later, Camille’s moved on, cut her hair and enrolled in architecture school. After years have passed, she starts a relationship with her older teacher Lorenz (Magne-Havard Brekke), who she bonds with on an intellectual level rather than a sexual one. The two have moved in together and even tried to have a baby when Sullivan returns home and the two can’t separate themselves again.
This is a messy relationship, and if it were in a Hollywood romance it would be transparently so. But Director Mia Hansen-Love gives it the art house, French style with low-key dialogue, expressive montages, abrupt editing and urgent cinematography with nowhere to go. It tries to make the film more visually suggestive than intelligently emotional, and it stifles the potential of the characters.
Creton is a new, young actress I discovered in Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air,” and she’s effortlessly warm, delicate and loveable. But her character Camille doesn’t even have much to say. Her mother talks about how before she was in love she seemed full of life, but we never see that side of her, nor do we see how someone like Lorenz can find her mature and brave beyond her age. The movie instead just has her looking melancholic, performing odd jobs at theaters and night clubs to pass the days.
And when she does speak, her dialogue can be notoriously cheesy. There’s a scene where Camille and Lorenz are driving, and he drops a big, overly poetic axiom on her that’s treated as off the cuff. Instead, the movie’s big payoff moments of romance are in Sullivan and Camille’s staring, swooning and steamy sex scenes.
“Goodbye First Love” has plenty of the heartbreak and passion that comes with a first love, but it misses out on the more grounded moments of reality.
2 ½ stars