"Goodbye First Love" represents somewhat of a narrative growth for its director Mia Hansen-Løve, whom last time out made an almost entirely front-loaded picture in "The Father of My Children." This new work is just as mannered (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse), but it does tell a story from beginning to end, settling on a slow burning release of its emotional power instead of putting everything out there in a jolting wallop and not having anything to show for it by the end. Hansen-Løve still has the knack for finding and isolating small moments of intensely specific human nature, and certain scenes in this film are as moving as the memorable shot of the producer's look of abyss before suicide in "Father." But, despite these poignant touches, I could never truly give myself over, feeling emotionally cut off by the polite, distanced style; the pleasing but misplaced soundtrack cues; and the (probably intentionally) lack of thematic rhythm or discipline (way too many alienating perspective changes, though it is good that we get to meet some interesting background characters).
I found the film to be most successful in its observation of the romantic behavior of Camille (Lola Creton), and how her gradual overall changes and coming of age can be reflected in her subtle moving away from dependence. We enter into her life when she's 15, entering as an audience via her beloved older boyfriend (and "first love" of the title) Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who seems to care a lot about her (and enjoys the sex for sure) but still wants his own life separate from her. The idea of life without Sullivan is impossible to think of for Camille at this point, who doesn't have much of a developed social life outside of her tenuous relationship with him. This makes his decision to take a long trip to South America all the more devastating. The film's strongest section involves the two's final trip to the countryside, which proves erratic and summarizes both why they're perfect and wrong for each other. The moment where Camille, sitting opposite Sullivan at the end of a long table, crawls down a bench to meet him is remarkably tender and touching, and some of most life and reality that Hansen-Løve has ever put into a scene.
The rest of "Goodbye First Love" chronicles Camille's attempts to get over Sullivan and to start anew years later in a May-December romance with her divorced architecture teacher Lorenz (the excellent Magne-Havard Brekke), with some flare-ups of the past. But, as critic Mike D'Angelo observed, the lack of age difference between the 15 year old Camille and the college-age Camille is startling nearly to the point of distraction. The film looks like it was shot terribly out of sequence, as in certain moments the older Camille looks younger than the younger one. I guess it would have been an even poorer choice to cast a different actress in a slightly older role, but I'm not totally sure. Anyways, the film feels less in control here than before, sometimes trying to mimic the repetitive lifestyle of a girl whose life is consumed by an unreachable love, but also just feeling like it's just standing around, padding on (it's too long a film for sure).
A minor subject of the film is light and how spaces capture it. Lighting is the strength of Stephane Fontaine's cinematography, which is sometimes transcendent (examples include the image of the Camille and Sullivan lying in a luminous, subtly shifting forest, as well as the two providing a fading light to a Parisian darkness). It adds greatly to a familiar and uneven work from a filmmaker who's figuring out how to push herself, and who needs to change certain tendencies (like the bluntness of the extremely disappointing cop-out of an ending) before she can truly deserve the festival acclaim that she's gotten. B-
I have very little to say about Alice Rohrwacher's "Corpo Celeste," which hasn't really left a dent since the time I saw it a few weeks back, other than that it's trying too hard in its studied disapproval of the church. A lot of mileage is gotten out of the idea that the sacred is now profane, as if that wasn't obvious enough. There's some interesting imagery, and a somewhat involving lead in Marta (Yle Vianello), but the film overall is a bland time-waster, not worth devoting time to in this world where there's much more stimulating cinema to be taken in. C