' Cinema Romantico: Un Amour de Jeunesse

Monday, July 09, 2012

Un Amour de Jeunesse

So let’s say Will Shakespeare did a re-write on “Romeo & Juliet.” Let’s say Romeo meets Juliet and goes up to her balcony and that whole deal and they whisper sweet everythings to one another and do the no-pants dance and so on and so forth but then instead of deciding to get secretly married Romeo announces his intention to split the scene and hop a ship bound for the new world with Benvolio and Balthasar and Abram to backpack through Appalachia and, thus, leave Juliet back in Verona to cool her heels. What might Juliet feel? What might Juliet do? What might have happened had Romeo returned years later?


In a not-too twisted way this is the premise of Mia Hansen-Love’s French film “Un Amour de Jeunesse” (American translation: “Goodbye First Love.”) 15 year old Camille (Lola Créton) is in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) the way Tom was in love with Katie when he jumped around on Oprah’s couch. I’m not being flip. Seriously, if at that moment Katie had shown up and told Tom it was over wouldn’t you have worried Tom was going to slit his wrists right then and there? In an early scene, after a frolic in her Parisian bedroom, Camille makes mention of committing suicide if Sullivan abandons her. Sullivan says she is very “dissuasive.” Camille will spend the rest of the film both rejecting and living up to that notion. (The name Camille, according to WikiName, can potentially derive from the old Roman family name Camillus, meaning “Altar Server”, as if to suggest Camille worships a bit too fervently at the altar of Sullivan. Ah? Anyone?)

Sullivan, it seems, is actually fairly level-headed. Yes, he loves Camille but he also recognizes his and her youth and understands the need not only to go exploring but to learn how not to be co-dependent. Camille, however, gives off the whiff of wanting to go all Miley Cyrus and get married before she’s of legal drinking age (yes, even for France!). Sullivan departs. At first, Camille tracks his progress. She eagerly awaits his letters. Depression sets in. She melodramatically takes pills, though Hansen-Love’s handling of the moment is entirely un-melodramatic and totally matter-of-fact. Her father tells her to “turn the page.” She does. Arguably.

She decides to get a “vocation.” Architecture. Why architecture? She says at one point but it mostly seems to be her choice because it allows for flowing soliloquies ostensibly about architecture but that are really about Camille’s plight. She becomes enamored with her older Norwegian architecture professor Lorenz (Magne-Havard Brekke). They chat. They enter a relationship. They move in together. Her life seems to be on track. Yet, we wonder. She is what? Twenty years old? Trading in a young, immature lover for an older, more mature lover, as if she has chosen to forgo the all-important training ground in the middle. “You’re in such a hurry,” Lorenz tells her. Why? Why is she in such a hurry?


Hansen-Love structures the film so that as it progresses we are under the impression Camille is growing into herself, blooming, if you will, into a young woman rather than a lovesick young girl. Lorenz seems a bit distracted perhaps but in love with Camille and stable which, in turn, is stabilizing her. Except then Sullivan inevitably re-emerges and we are forced to re-examine.

Several years ago I was at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Queens, New York and they had an exhibit wherein you could select different types of music to set over the sequence in Baz Luhrmann's version of "Romeo and Juliet" where the title characters first meet at the costume party. It was remarkable to see how easily it could slip from romance to comedy to hardcore drama. This was a commentary on how music functions to illuminate film, of course, but it was just as much a commentary on that story in particular.

Twist the knob just one degree and "Romeo and Juliet" becomes "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest."

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