Sunday 6 May 2012


(Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011)

Camille (Lola Créton) is 15, and madly in love with her handsome, slightly older boyfriend Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) in the way that only teenagers can really be. When he leaves for 10 months travelling in South America, and that becomes numberless years, she collapses emotionally. We next see her years later, studying architecture, and observe her begin a relationship with her middle-aged teacher (Magne Håvard Brekke) which lasts for a few seemingly content years. But then Sullivan re-enters her life and everything is thrown into question once more.
This is a simple old tale, this story of the first love which cuts deepest, and plainly autobiographical. It is perhaps strongest on the changes in the life of a young person. There are no political awakenings for Camille, just the realisation that architecture is her "vocation" and a new maturity about what she wants and what it means.
But the love story is problematic. Hansen-Løve shows us this couple kissing, arguing, hugging, weeping together. Their last holiday together is a familiarly idyllic rural break, and they are the kind of incredibly French characters who can leave no lake unswum, no horse unridden. Their passion is evident in the many bitter fights and recoveries they endure. We can see it, but crucially, we cannot feel it. There is an oddly cold distance here, between the heat of the emotions we witness and the measured recreation of those emotions by the filmmaker. It feels a little like being told by somebody about their great love affair. Interesting but not especially involving.
Camille's life away from Sullivan is always more compelling, and the film has an exciting sense of Paris as a living city, and a vivid way of expressing her growing feeling for architecture. The characters, particularly the pretentious, selfish, permanently scarfed Sullivan, flirt with being truly annoying, and are undeniably almost caricatures of the bourgeois cliches who have filled French cinema for decades; self-indulgent, solipsistic and whiny, only the warmth of the directors gaze and the charm of the actors redeem them.
The performances are always convincing, and Hansen-Løve is a good storyteller with a great sense of time and place and a feel for music, but you get the feeling that this film is just that bit too autobiographical for her. As Camille hears in class "Art is. Private matter for the Artist". Perhaps in this case, too private.

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