Actress Lola Créton doesn’t seem to have a problem getting naked, physically. That’s how we first see her in “Goodbye First Love.” But emotional nakedness, that’s something else. The young actress just doesn’t have the dramatic chops to carry off a movie that introduces her character at age 15 and follows her for eight more years. Well, Créton was born only in 1993; she’s playing both younger and older than she actually is. So it’s not really her fault that the film — one that in several ways is worth seeing — takes a big gamble that doesn’t quite pay off.
The latest from writer-director Mia Hansen-LØve (whose “Father of My Children” from 2009 is really good), this is the coming-of-age-and-what-happens-after tale of Camille (Créton) and her teenage boyfriend Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky).
The opening scenes, set in 1999, get things just right. They’re young. They’re in love. She’s clingy. He’s horny. All he wants to do is have sex. All she wants to do is have sex. They accuse each other of wanting only to have sex … then they have sex. Occasionally they check in with their open-minded parents, who regard their offspring with amusedly weary expressions that translate as “plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.” They’ve been there; they don’t interfere.
Sullivan wants adventure, though. He’s sick of school. He wants experience. He wants to travel and see distant countries and find himself, by himself. And:
YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!! THIS IS THE END OF MY WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD!!!
That’s Camille’s opinion about his travel plans. Predictably. Also predictably, Sullivan threads his way down the west coast of South America, first sending Camille loving letters, then philosophically abstract letters, then no letters at all. Game over.
So far, so good. The movie’s strategy of then following Camille through teenage grief, emotional recovery and re-emergence into adulthood is also a great idea. In theory.
Lola Créton is a lovely young actress, OK? Maybe more lovely and young than an actress, yet. Still, it’s useful to remember that Jessica Lange debuted as a breast-flashing ditz in Kong’s giant animatronic paw; it took her a few more years to really learn her craft. Anyway, in “Goodbye” it makes sense that Camille — as a hormonal teenager, an age when every feeling is A Feeling — is so intense and earnest. But Créton’s moodiness doesn’t evolve into other emotional states; her Camille’s trout-pout mouth never unclenches into a real smile.
It’s easy to believe that, still in her teens, Camille might try to kill herself in her oh-so-serious passion for Sullivan. It’s harder to buy her, in her 20s but unchanged, either as a promising architectural student or the kind of young woman who’d attract her famous older professor (Magne-Håvard Brekke, coming off as a non-psychotic version of Klaus Kinski). That’s what happens, though. That’s also when Sullivan, smirking, re-enters the picture and starts re-circling Camille.
If Créton is too awkward and opaque, Urzendowsky has the opposite problem. His tousle-haired Sullivan is too smug and self-delighted. Like Créton, the actor never seems to change much across the span of eight years that his character traverses. These two are puppies at the start, puppies at the end.
But the first half of “Goodbye First Love” is lovely, much of it unrolling without dialogue as Camille and Sullivan act out their amour in the countryside. It really does summon up the joyous, grievous, reckless, indecisive, I-want-to-live-with-you-forever-or-let’s-kill-ourselves-together-now feeling of un amour de jeunesse (which is the film’s original, better title).
“Goodbye First Love.” Starring Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky. Directed by Mia Hansen-LØve. In French with subtitles. Unrated. 110 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.