French FF 2012: Un amour de jeunesse

Un amour de jeunesse (Goodbye, First Love)
2011 | Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve | 110 mins.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s third feature, Goodbye, First Love, is exactly what the title promises. The film follows fifteen-year-old Olivia (Lola Créton) through her first teenage love and relationship, then details the inevitable end of that relationship. As the title might suggest, she doesn’t get over it quickly or easily. Instead, Hansen-Løve’s film authentically portrays this relationship and its aftermath with bracing honesty, and, at times, a touching warmth.

The first act shows Olivia’s teenage relationship with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and it’s what you might expect: they’re petulant, not very intelligent and prone to making each other angry without understanding why. When he reveals that he wants to go to South America to experience the world outside of Paris, she thinks her life is over. It’s silly, and we see her mother tell her this to her face, but Hansen-Løve views it with the same intensity as Olivia. It’s a refreshing take on a time in a person’s life that seems very overdramatic from the outside looking in, but very real to those experiencing it—and Hansen-Løve doesn’t condescend to her characters.

Throughout the rest of the film, we see Olivia over a period of seven years: how her life progresses from where she was at fifteen, and exactly where it hasn’t progressed at all. Créton is remarkable, and the film relies on her to make it through some of the more flawed, inert sequences. Her cadence and physicality ages with the character, her skilful portrayal conveying the full weight of Olivia’s past without ever seeming laboured or overemphatic.

The film’s second and third acts really bring its flaws to the forefront, as Olivia studies architecture and becomes involved with one of her professors—a man older, more stable and more experienced than Sullivan ever was. However, the film never really gets into Olivia’s head; for a story so focussed on the protagonist to the exclusion of all else, it’s disarming to have a lot of her actions remain seemingly inexplicable. At points it also feels like a clip-show of Olivia’s life: events that would be massively traumatizing or life-changing are skated over without another thought and are never brought up again. This doesn’t derail the story, but it prevents Goodbye, First Love from being as deep as it could be; Olivia becomes less of a person and more of a figure.

The film also really fumbles the ending: it’s heavy-handed and nearly undoes all the work that made her into a complex, human character. (Without spoiling it, the story goes definitively in one direction, even though Olivia’s feelings about her life and relationships up until that point have been, at best, ambiguous.) The rest of the film is robust enough to resist such a pigeon-holing of its lead character. Goodbye, First Love is an authentic, if not always wholly effective, portrayal of a teenage love and the inevitable aftermath that we all experience.

The 2012 Alliance Française French Film Festival began on February 29 in Christchurch, and in Auckland on March 1st. It finishes in Hamilton on April 4, having in the meantime visited Tauranga, Wellington, Dunedin, Nelson, Palmerston North, and Havelock North.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

For more reviews, browse the “French Film Festival 2012” tag on this site, and follow @French_FilmFest on Twitter.