Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve | 110 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Håvard Brekke, Valérie Bonneton, Serge Renko, Özay Fecht, Max Ricat, Louis Dunbar, Philippe Paimblanc, Patrice Movermann, Arnaud Azoulay, Amélie Robin, Justine Dhouilly, Charlotte Faivre, François Buot, Elisabeth Guill, Marie-Hélène Peyrat, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Grégoire Strecker, Jean-Paul Dubois, Eric Fraticelli, Frédéric Liévain
The holiday love. The puppy love. The first real love. Who does not know it? In ‘Un amour de jeunesse’ Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) experience such a fiery, intense love. In the beginning, it is mainly physical, when 15-year-old Camille and four-year-older Sullivan explore each other and promise each other eternal loyalty and cannot imagine life without each other. Camille surrenders to the limit of obsession, but it soon becomes apparent that Sullivan is not indulging so uninhibitedly. Is it because he is older and may have experienced a “first love” before? Is it because he knows he’s been trekking South America with friends for almost a year? Or does he not know himself? That elusiveness – and in her eyes fickleness – frustrates Camille.
‘Un amour de jeunesse’ omits a lot of information, which is left to the viewer to fill in. This is a conscious choice, but it can lead to a disappointing viewing experience. Certainly because that Hansen-Løve also omits many of the traditional (and proven) film techniques. Romance is certainly there, as is love, but not as you might expect. The story is told at a slow pace, with plenty of attention to the details that feed Camille’s memory, while at the same time looking at events with a clinically detached view. It is a clever balancing act that Hansen-Løve performs with it, but one that does not work completely satisfactorily.
Camille can’t let go of Sullivan, even when it becomes more than clear that he has no intention of continuing the relationship in his absence. Camille apparently continues with her life, but during her studies she rejects potential new loves and only slowly surrenders to the advances of her professor Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). He gives her stability and security, but Camille experiences this love with less than a fraction of the intensity of her feelings for Sullivan. Years later, the inevitable happens: she meets Sullivan again, who is now a photographer in Marseille. Has her passion for Sullivan really been extinguished? Does she have to choose between two men? And can that childhood sweetheart really be transformed into something durable and lasting?
The cast is solid, with a good supporting role from Urzendowsky as the hard-to-fathom Sullivan. In a way, it is a shame that it cannot be called more than a supporting role, because he knows how to get the most out of an ungrateful role – it is actually just a cunt. However, ‘Un amour de jeunesse’ is entirely Créton’s film. As the fragile Camille (both physically and mentally) she knows perfectly how to give shape to a girl addicted to love, who grows into a young woman. It is to Créton’s credit that ‘Un amour de jeunesse’ can largely be called successful.
The French filmmaker Hansen-Løve, who won the jury prize in Cannes in 2004 for her ‘Le père de mes enfants’, incorporated autobiographical elements in the story, as mentioned. For example, her relationship with the older director Olivier Assayas would have served as a model for the role that Camille’s older friend Lorenz plays in the film. Whether some events come from her own life is actually not that relevant. Her observations are universal: the memories associated with small gifts and everyday objects, the new and intense emotions, the touches and kisses that are still new, and the pain when that very first love disappears. They are recognizable and very well developed. The film is by no means sentimental, on the contrary. The lack of a warm beating heart is the biggest shortcoming. The analytical and intellectual approach that Hansen-Løve chooses is only half complete by excluding Sullivan from that analysis. What remains is a fragmented portrait of Camille. It is fascinating to watch, but too one-sided to really touch deeply.
Finally, the film’s international title is the awful ‘Goodbye, First Love’. Not only does this sound very melodramatic, the translation is also a loss in meaning and charge compared to ‘Un amour de jeunesse’. Sin.