The Tuesday Zone: ‘Goodbye First Love’ (On Netflix Instant and Everything!)

The Tuesday Zone

Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse) [2012]

In case Amour didn’t suffice your “French movies about love” quota for 2012, this is another one that might work for you. Goodbye First Love came out last year and was fairly well received, gaining praise for its realistic approach and surprisingly unpretentious style (well, you know, for a French movie).

Plot Summary: Camille (Lola Créton), a fifteen year old, is obsessively in love with her boyfriend Sullivan, who is a few years older.  When he reveals that he’s planning a several month trek across South America, their relationship is strained and she eventually must learn to move on.  We see the next several years unfold, which include going to university, meeting new people, and the eventual reunion of her and Sullivan.

As you probably inferred from the title (well, the American one, which is much better than the translation of the French title: “Young love”), this story is about Camille moving on from her first relationship. That sets this movie up as a kind of Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story.  This genre can be hit or miss, as it’s either a really boring story about some person’s life over a few years, or a relatable and interesting tale of growing up.  As much as Goodbye slows its pulse down too much at times, it overall falls into the latter category.

Screenshot

Les Films Pelléas And for fans of pretty imagery, there’s plenty of that too.

But why should this story interest you, given that you’re probably not a young French woman growing up in Paris?  Well, we pretty much all have our first loves at some point in our lives, and Camille’s approach to the relationship is both troubling and understandable.  She doesn’t love Sullivan in the healthy, adult relationship sense.  She’s infatuated with him. At one point she (somewhat jokingly) says she’d die or kill herself if they broke up.

"That's, uh, hilarious, sweetie...."

Les Films Pelléas “That’s, uh, hilarious, sweetie….”

A lot of people can relate to this youthful and passionate approach to love, or at the very least they can understand where Camille is coming from.  Because Camille is a well-constructed character, we can see parts of ourself in her, and if not that, we can at least understand her actions and motivations.  That’s what makes this movie have a broader appeal than to just fans of character-driven French films or the unfortunately small genre of female-driven narratives.

What I really liked about this movie was how efficiently it followed the several years over which the narrative unfolds.  Camille is distraught when Sullivan departs for his trip and traces his journey with pins on a map of South America.  She awaits his phone calls and letters, defining herself by him and living her life vicariously.  Only when she tears down the map and decides to pursue her own interests can she move on, and that’s when the real story starts.  What Goodbye does that some movies forget, though, is have Camille both move on from her relationship and takes the lessons she learned with her.  She actually grows as a character.  Crazy, right?

This includes the obligatory physical change that reflects emotional progress.

Les Films Pelléas The character growth includes the obligatory physical change that reflects emotional progress.  I never said it was subtle.

There’s more complicated subject matter that gets tackled, mainly when Sullivan returns and Camille realizes she still loves him even though they have nothing in common.  She’s also seeing a much older gent.  I won’t spoil the real story any more than the title already does (and really, it’s not where you end up but how you get there with this kind of movie) but I think that the way director Mia Hansen-Løve handles the difficult situations she puts Camille in is a sign of good filmmaking.  The characters don’t have big revelations but rather minor changes that affect the way they approach things.  That’s what makes Goodbye First Love stand out from the excess of character dramas we get these days.

There’s a lot to be said for Camille’s growth as a character, from a dependent girlfriend to a woman, but watching the movie is a simple enough substitute for me explaining the obvious.  Goodbye First Love is worth seeing not just for francophiles or film buffs, but for anyone that likes stories with well-developed characters, not to mention solid cinematography and a beautiful soundtrack.

This movie is available on Netflix Instant and available for rent on Amazon Instant.

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