Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2011, 110 mins, in French with subtitles
Cast: Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Håvard Brekke, Valérie Bonneton
Review by Colin Dibben
Watch, remember and wonder where the love went … this simple, touching French tale of young love avoids sentimentality but makes teenage gaucherie look like the ultimate in effortless style.
Paris, 1999: teenager Camille (Lola Créton) is experiencing the pangs of full-on first love. Her exaltation and anguish are made more intense by the fact that the slightly older boy she’s in love with, Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), feels the need to travel the world with his mates.
Camille and Sullivan spend quality high-summer time away, just the two of them, at Camille’s family’s retreat in the Ardèche. Their long walks are sultry with a passion that’s sharpened by the knowledge that the wider world awaits them both. They pick cherries, lie in the long grass, swim in the river, make meals for each other. It’s idyllic and lovely to watch, but both them and us, we know that the dark cursor of the future is pulsing in the shadows – a known unknown.
Paris, 2007: Camille is an architectural student who’s fallen in love with one of her lecturer’s, the much older Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). Just as she decides to move in with Lorenz, a chance encounter puts her back in touch with Sullivan. First love is reignited – but what role can it play in the adult world of careers and life choices?
Mia Hansen-Løve’s previous film, Father of My Children, got good reviews but completely passed me by. And I’m annoyed it did, because this is a wonderful film, successfully skirting all the problems you can imagine a film maker faces dealing in this subject: being sentimental, patronizing, melodramatic or otherwise unrealistic. Everything here feels credible. The acting is fine. The young leads march around with almost Bressonian gaucherie and inhabit their teenage seriousness beautifully. At one point, Camille lies on her bed and responds to her slightly bitter but supportive mum’s (Valérie Bonneton) announcement that supper is ready, with the exclamation: ‘All I care for is love!’. Sullivan’s character flaw is a prize-winning smirk that means he may never be taken too seriously after Camille. Lorenz, on the other hand, is all professional focus with a side order of compartmentalised but solid, caring love.
Yes, this film is a corker. Characters and crafted location shots have a knowing, self-absorbed beauty. That intense, world-occluding ‘it’s just you and me, babe’ teen spirit leaps off the screen. And the inevitable transformation of that spirit by the world, into something older and hopefully wiser, has a fatal beauty too.