Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cinematographer: Stéphane Fontaine
Producer: Phillipe Martin and David Thion
by Jon Cvack
After publishing my thoughts on Claire's Knee (1971) - taking issue with Jerome’s attraction to a 16 and 17 year old girl - it’s pure coincidence that this was next film on my list. I’ve been in numerous debates about Call Me By Your Name (which I thought was one of the top three films of the year) and whether or not Oliver was a “predator”; varying from people seeing the guy as comparable to a child molester, to their relationship based upon an honest love and affection. Before proceeding, it should be noted that writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve is a woman, which at least somewhat relieves the discomfort.
Most of these debates fall within two categories: 1) the age of consent and what it should be, and 2) whether an individual can be of a mature enough mind at the time. My opinion is that there’s a range of maturity that befalls most age ranges. Some are far more intelligent, aware, or psychologically more mature their than peers. In saying that, seeing that the age of Goodbye, First Love’s main character Camille (Lola Créton) is 15 I was again creeped out until I checked the laws of France which accommodate the relationship.
The film opens up with a fully nude and post coital Camille, joined by her 19 year old boyfriend Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) as they cuddle in each other’s arms. Sullivan is days away from leaving for his 10-month backpacking trip through South America, refusing to take Camille with him and devastating her in the process. Their relationship was regressed to what seems like nothing beyond sex and fighting. Camille’s mother is concerned she’s too young for Sullivan, hoping that the trip breaks them up for good. The pair spend some time in at Camille’s mountain home, where Sullivan and her have a lovely day together until, on the way to the grocery store, Sullivan stops to swim at the pond, coming back to Camille who’s enraged, hoping it he could just stay forever.
Most people have either been in or have had a friend in a relationship like this; in which the only time the couple is not fighting is when they’re not speaking; leading to hackneyed jokes such as that sex must be fantastic which are only cheap because they’re often, at least, partially true; whether on both sides, or one. In this case, Chamille possesses a strong care - possibly love - for Sullivan; willing to submit to his advances time after time, no matter how mad she is. Sullivan, on the other hand, is far more interested in the sex. Still he has a certain attraction. Similar to how Camille's love might be disguised desire for someone to care for her (I believe there was a missing or negligent father mentioned), Sullivan’s love was based upon an intimate relationship with another prson; possibly even his first love (that is, first good sex).
The letters continue for a few months while Camille waits at home; checking the mailbox obsessively until she finally gets the call from Sullivan who tries to explain that he’s breaking up with her; unsure if he’ll ever return from South America. The news is devastating and Camille’s heart shatters.
For anyone that’s had their heart broken, it’s always difficult for a movie to demonstrate the ever important relief which is time. I was even surprised to see that this film advances four years into the future, with Camille now in architectural college, falling in love with her professor Lorenz (Magne Håvard-Brekke); who must be five years past twice her age and leaning more in the father role. Another four years later, she’s about to move in with the professor, having graduated college, and become a project manager at his firm.
Leaving work one day, she sees Sullivan’s mom on the bus, wondering when he returned. The mom gives Camille the number and the two meet up. Immediately Camille’s old feelings return and they start hanging out on a regular basis. Although lying to Lorenz, she still moves in with him, fleecing to him about trips and late night dinners with her friends, all in an effort to meet up and make love to Sullivan. The deceit culminates in Camille having a miscarriage, begging Lorenz to promise they’ll one day have a child. Still the relationship continues, and Camille invites Sullivan back her and Lorenz’s place in order where Camille gives Sullivan a painting of a couple and their child.
Days later, Sullivan leaves once again; offering nothing more than a note to Camille, telling her that he loves so much that it causes him pain; for as much as he wants to provide Camille the family she wants, he can’t. Camille’s heart shatters once again and she returns once more to Lorenz.
I’m not sure what it is about first loves that kick the obsession into overdrive. Every friend I know who’s gotten that first girlfriend fell victim to dropping off the face of the earth and spending every waking moment with that person. It seems a mixture of both sex, maturity (in the sense of the incredibly real feelings, previously unknown), and connecting with another person for the first time. Looking back on my first love, I think I felt alienated for being a weird personin school; finding a similarly weird and attractive person that provided both sex and connecting. I recall being with my father on vacation; having forever been embarrassed to talk to my parents about relationships, even into high school.
There’s no doubt that, similar to the film, my parents saw what was coming. The details of the situation would require pages to explain, as each individual story fails to capture what the entirety explains. She was dealing with some significant personal issues and pushed people away, and I thought - like others - that I could help her. Then again, I wonder if it was me and that my obsessive mind smothered the situation; as Camille’s did toward Sullivan. I recall a distinct feeling both times it ended. When I broke up with her in high school for refusing to end things with her ex-boyfriend, I had excitement and pride in abandoning a bad situation; and being able to return to my own life. When round two resumed in college, I recall feeling even more alone, alienated, and even doubtful about my future (my first year of college was one of the most miserable social experiences I recall as a teenager;). This might have contributed to our reunion. Like Camille happened to see Sullivan’s mother, I received a message one night from the girl. We had gone two years without either seeing or talking to each other, though again the connection resume. Similar to the film (and first time I saw her), there was an immediate desire to reconnect, and so began one of the most emotionally intense and volatile nine month periods of life, as I rekindled an old romance which seemed like it could finally work, while I was four months away from leaving for Boston to start film school. Similarities to this film are striking.
The relationship crashed and burned as suspicions began on both our ends - hers against me for having once broken up with her and now leaving again; and mine as she, again, just couldn’t seem to sever ties with her various relationships; not so much cheating as keeping them in her life, giving them the impression that I would soon get; that things would ultimately work out. Like them, as I became more focused on the relationship, I had little life beyond it; abandoning friends, family, and all logic. There was a fight almost every day, extending for days before a brief respite and the next one would start. I’m not sure what was said to be the last time we saw each other so much as that it was a spring day; possibly cloudy. I’ve never talked to her since.
I always wonder what it’d feel like to see her again. Now being in love and engaged to an incredible woman in which we share a beautiful and healthy relationship in which fights are seldom, affection is strong, conversation goes for hours and hours, and honesty serves as one of the pillars - I wonder if there’d be anything beyond indifference. I have a doubt I’d see her as just a person rather than someone who played such a significant role in my life. There isn’t hate on my end, as for all the misery, it was an experience that has enriched my life, providing an experience that only I - and me alone - can ever possibly reflect upon and fully comprehend. A movie like this makes you remember those moments; as the memory begins to sunset, taking up less and less space as better and healthier memories enter the mind.
BELOW: We all been there
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