Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse): Film Review

An airy yet incisive third feature from French auteur Mia Hansen-Love.

Writer-director Mia Hansen-Love spins a decade-spanning romantic drama that stars Lola Creton, Sebastian Urzendowsky and Magne-Harvard Brekke.

PARIS — Rising auteur Mia Hansen-Love (Father of My Children) delivers another smoothly helmed slice of Gallic life in the decade-spanning romantic drama, Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse). Starring talented 17-year-old actress Lola Creton as a young woman who finds that saying goodbye to a first love is much easier said than done, the film offers up the sort of casual, insightful and at times sexually candid storytelling that, if it wasn’t necessarily invented in France, has definitely become one the nation’s more prized genres. Following an international premiere at Locarno, arthouse audiences could drink this down like a glass of Chardonnay.

Cutting straight to the chase, Love kicks off with the humble and handsome Sylvain (Sebastian Urzendowsky) riding his bike through Paris, stopping to buy some condoms, and then heading over to the apartment of 15-year-old Camille (Creton, terrific), who welcomes him with open arms and no clothes. However, what looks to be the ideal premieramouris soon complicated by Sylvain’s plans to backpack around South America, leaving Camille behind to suffer the kind of end-of-the-world breakup that plenty of adolescents experience.

If the plot could have been stolen from the Sweet Valley High series, the 30-year-old Hansen-Love (here in her third feature outing) has such a frank and carefree way of presenting things that they rarely appear as the clichés they may very well be. Jumping ahead in time with the ease of an Olympic hurdler, she follows Camille’s gradual rise from lovesick tween to budding young professional, providing only the most essential details, and showing the progression of years via clever inserts and changing climates.

When Camille finally climbs out of her slump to become a serious architecture student, she begins a long and fruitful affair with her significantly older professor, Lorenz (Magne-Havard Brekke, compelling). At this point the story digresses to follow the two as they tour various landmarks of European Modernism, allowing the Franco-German co-production to cross over the Rhine, and DP Stephane Fontaine (A Prophet) to showcase his sun-drenched cinematography while capturing the best of the Bauhaus movement.

Despite such diversions – and there are a few in a narrative that seems a bit stretched at 110 minutes – Hansen-Love never loses sight of how deeply Camille was affected by her teenage fling, which comes back to bite her when Sylvain resurfaces. If all the pubescent nudity and frolicking are nothing new in local films (Sylvain’s joke to Camille that he’s going to “rape her” is one of those dialogues that only the French could get away with…though maybe not in court), the writer-director reveals an empathy towards her characters that makes her work seem anything but exploitative.

Though it’s ultimately more lightweight than both All is Forgiven and Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love – whose subtler original-language title translates to A Young Love – shows how well Hansen-Love can provide the type of sensitive, seemingly nonchalant filmmaking that was perfected by the late Eric Rohmer. As if well aware that some may criticize what’s clearly a very French way of doing things, she includes a late scene where Sylvain complains about having watched a movie that’s way too “chatty and complacent.” Thankfully, she’s done much better.

Opens: In France July 6
Production companies: Les Films Pelleas, Razor Film, Arte France Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, WDR/Arte, Jouror Productions
Cast: Lola Creton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Havard Brekke, Valerie Bonneton, Serge Renko, Ozay Fecht
Director/screenwriter: Mia Hansen-Love

Producers: Philippe Martin, David Thion
Director of photography: Stephane Fontaine
Production designers: Mathieu Menut, Charlotte de Cadeville
Costume designer: Bethasbee Drefyus
Editor: Marion Monnier
Sales Agent: Films Distribution
No rating, 110 minutes