With a name like Camille for its central character you might not expect for romance to end happily and in director/writer Mia Hansen-Love’s 2011 “Goodbye First Love” (“Un Amour de Jeunesse”) we see Camille ending up with two very wrong men and yet young love isn’t romanticized, idealized or even intellectually dissected for psychological motivation. In French, Danish and German with English subtitles, “Goodbye First Love” opened today at the Laemmle Playhouse 7.
This is life as it is lived. Before we meet Camille (Lola Créon), we see Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). His face is half-obscured by his clothing as he rides his worn bike. He enters the apartment and uncovers the sleeping and naked Camille. He brings her a rose and gazing at her in a full-length mirror tells her how beautiful she is. They both are lovely youngsters; he with his mop of dark curling hair and she with her dirty blonde natural waves that looks more like she ran her fingers through her hair than a set stylist tamed every curl to perfection. Her face appears to have no makeup on it, and even when Sullivan comments on her wearing makeup, it’s not caked on as you might expect in a similar Hollywood love story.
Camille is only 15. We don’t deal with that. Her mother doesn’t rage about her apparent obsession with Sullivan. She offers sensible advice that Camille doesn’t heed. She loves Sullivan; Sullivan seems to love her, but he also seems to love his “freedom” more. Disappearing for nights with friends and parties, he pops back into Camille’s life like an alley cat looking for some affection. He’s also a young man with a travel itch and he wishes to go to South America.
Dropping out of school, he sells a piece of art, for less than he hoped, and after a romantic interlude with Camille sets off for South America. He writes; he calls, but ultimately he finds her recriminations too much and he leaves her with silence. Camille pines for her lost love. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you wonder if he had met with someone unfortunate fate far away from family, friends and his true love?
Yet Camille goes on, eventually entering school to be an architect where her buildings reflect her isolation from student life. One teacher comments her solution to building a dormitory complex is more suited to monastic life. To construct buildings for people, Camille needs to become part of society. She turns away a fellow student, closer to her age, but she begins a relationship with one of her professors, Lorenz (Magne Havard Brekke).
Not only is he much older, he’s in the process of getting a divorce (that should be a red flag for any woman) and he has children. Yet like Sullivan, her first love, he puts her on a pedestal. She is, after all, much younger.
Now working for Lorenz and living in Paris, she returns home to find a letter from Sullivan. Eight years have passed and when they meet, he is evasive and charming. They have nothing in common except their mutual physical attraction. She is a professional, although some of that can be credited to her romantic attachment to her mentor as she works with him. He has a handyman job going and on the side takes photographs for a small publication.
Camille is a wounded soul, but also a lover of beauty and without deep moral convictions. She is also a person with an unusually placid demeanor.She doesn’t get angry; she just exists. She knows what her body desires and she seems to exist without any girlfriends to pass judgment.
Likewise, the movie asks us not to judge Camille and her romantic attachments. We don’t know enough about Sullivan or see his friends to understand him. Likewise, we never see Lorenz’s ex-wife or children. We don’t know the whys of the divorce. While I appreciate the naturalness of the actors and the cinematography, I felt some of the nudity felt gratuitous and ultimately these characters weren’t particularly memorable. Instead, Hansen-Love, whose 2009 “The Father of My Children” won a Jury Special Prize at Cannes, asks us to just to follow Camille on her journey and perhaps remember your own first love and daydreams of what-ifs. If your first love returned, would you re-start your romance? And just why does your current love hold on to that particular whatever?