A Disease Called Love
Author: Lena Pupejko Keywords:
Love, obsession, chaos, contradiction, relationships
Film title: Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse)
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Screenplay: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Håvard Brekke
Distributor: Artificial Eye (UK); Sundance Selects (USA)
Cinema Release Date: 4 May 2012 (UK); 20 April 2012 (USA)
Certificate: 15 (UK) Contains sexualised nudity
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Goodbye First Love only confirms the old stereotype about the French being keen on romance and love. Passions, emotions and broken hearts become part and parcel of its storyline.
The film was intended as an outlet for its creator’s emotional tensions. Young French film director Mia Hansen-Løve (born in 1981) admits that she wanted to, ‘give a frame to a chaotic emotion inside’ of her, that the film resulted from her own broken heart, and adds that she became a film-maker solely because she was very unhappy. So in the autobiographical film Goodbye First Love, she opens up the deeply felt heart tribulations of her early youth.
Its protagonist, Camille (Lola Créton), is head over heels in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), with whom she has a sexual relationship at age fifteen. Sullivan wants to drop out of college and go to travel and work in South America for ten months. At the thought of him going away, Camille’s heart sinks. When Sullivan leaves, Camille spends her time missing him and counting days until he returns. Her tears and constant reproaches that he doesn’t love her enough irritate Sullivan. Eventually, he decides to break up. He writes a letter saying that he loves her with all his soul, but can’t continue like this, when every detail hurts her and she takes everything as an insult. With Sullivan gone, Camille feels it’s the end of her world and attempts suicide.
Persuaded by her father that it’s time to turn over a new leaf, Camille tries to start a new life without her first love. Architecture becomes her new vocation and she develops a relationship with her teacher, a Norwegian middle-aged architect, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke). She becomes a promising architect, works in Lorenz’s bureau and hopes to open her own soon. Over the next few years, Camille becomes more confident and mature. She and Lorenz move in together; she has a miscarriage.
One day, she meets her first love Sullivan again and confesses that she never stopped loving him. They date, spend nights together, and the pattern of their relationship seems to repeat itself. She thinks he isn’t sensitive enough, while he doesn’t understand what causes her to get upset: ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was just talking.’
Camille and Sullivan are lost in their communication. They seem to speak different languages that neither party understands. Mia Hansen-Løve admits that the key to the film was her inability to understand boys in matters of love. So she wanted to show the girl’s perspective on relationships. It may be due to the French taste in questions of love or the director’s own peculiar experience, but this perspective seems to be rather singular and by no means universal.
Camille’s love is annoyingly possessive. Sullivan is everything for her; she wants him to be always by her side, and gets offended at the drop of a hat. Such excessive, demanding sensitivity becomes onerous for Sullivan and makes him alienate himself from her. Camille realises that they have no common tastes and the only thing they agree on is that they always disagree. But she stubbornly keeps saying she loves him. Whether it’s the actress’s performance or the director’s plan, Camille’s countenance remains untouched by any expression throughout the film, apart from concentrated sadness, perhaps, so that she always appears to be moody and never quite satisfied.
Camille becomes obsessive about her feelings for Sullivan. When her mother encourages her to move on and forget about the person who doesn’t care for her, Camille continues to nurse her broken heart and indulges in some sort of self-pity. She says, ‘Love is all I care about. It’s all I live for.’ But how mature is such love? Her feelings for, or rather infatuation with Sullivan are more of an idol for Camille than love. ‘I have you inside me like a disease,’ she admits to Sullivan when they meet a few years later. And again this obsession frightens the young man who only recently said he loved her, wanted to marry her and have children together, and he deserts her.
We may be made to feel for the heroine, thinking that unrequited love always deserves sympathy, but we may fail to notice that love can turn into an idol. Like Camille, we may run the risk of loving the thrill of an emotion more than loving a person. It is this thrill of experiencing a strong feeling, for the sake of feeling, that turns it into a counterfeit of love.
In one of the interviews about her film, Mia Hansen-Løve says that life is chaos, and that she wanted to use art to create some order and give expression to her emotions. Indeed, Goodbye First Love reflects some of this chaos in the life of its protagonist. Its director intended the characters to be full of contradictions. Thus Sullivan loves and leaves Camille, and Camille ‘loves two men and finds some kind of balance within this imbalance’.
Being a lover to two men, Camille remains in delusion about the state of her heart: ‘My heart is still pure’, she replies to Sullivan who remarks that she is not the pure girl from before. She doesn’t seem to recognise that she can’t be unfaithful and pure in heart at the same time.
Camille is a good example of how our human nature can pervert such a beautiful and powerful feeling as love so that it becomes an unhealthy obsession that holds us captive and makes us deceive even ourselves. The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament makes a shrewd observation about the condition of human nature: ‘The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). We may not always realise or admit it but, like the protagonist, we are often unable to love selflessly because our hearts are spoiled and deceitful. This sinfulness of our hearts affects our relationships so that love becomes twisted and turns out to be a burden, and leaves a void inside. God knew this problem of the human heart, which is why he sent Jesus who came to change its very nature. And he can change our hearts and teach us to love, if we earnestly ask him.
 From the film’s Production Notes.
 Quoted in the Production Notes.
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Author: Lena Pupejko
© Copyright: Lena Pupejko 2012
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.