With her third and most recent film, Goodbye First Love, Mia Hansen-Løve has completed a loose trilogy that has established her as one of the most vital and important young voices in contemporary French cinema. Drawing upon her country's rich cinephilic heritage — which is amply on view in this season's Summer in France programme — Hansen-Løve is a natural heir to the French tradition of deeply personal auteurist cinema exemplified by her influences François Truffaut and Maurice Pialat, with one significant (and welcome) difference: the fact that, aside from a few exceptions (most notably the great Agnès Varda), this tradition has been almost entirely defined by male filmmakers.
Born in 1981, Hansen-Løve first entered the film world at the age of seventeen, when she landed a role as a young woman who falls in with an older man in Late August, Early September by the celebrated director Olivier Assayas, who featured her again two years later in his masterful period epic Les destinées sentimentales. Briefly studying acting at the Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in Paris, she turned her career to film criticism, writing for the legendary Cahiers du cinéma. After an intense two-year immersion into the world of cinephilia, she followed the path of so many Cahiers critics before her — from the original Nouvelle Vague contingent of Godard, Rohmer, Rivette et al to Assayas, André Téchiné and Leos Carax — by becoming a filmmaker herself, releasing her first feature Tout est pardonné in 2007. Focusing on a daughter's attempt to reconnect with her absent father, the film established a theme that would persist through Hansen-Løve's subsequent films: young people who struggle to understand their absentee parental figures while trying to find their own way through life. Hansen-Løve's second film, The Father of My Children, once again concerns a young girl, played by Alice de Lencquesaing, compelled to unravel the complex personal and professional legacies of her recently deceased father, who is played by the actress' real-life father Louis-Do de Lencquesaing. To up the filial ante even further, the film itself is a direct homage to one of Hansen-Løve's own cinematic father figures, the late Humbert Balsan — producer of films by such eminent auteurs as Claire Denis, Elia Suleiman, Youssef Chahine, Lars von Trier and Béla Tarr — who had encouraged her to make Tout est pardonné.
With Goodbye First Love, a sensitive, poignant and beautifully rendered portrait of teenage romance, Hansen-Løve at first seems to take a different tack by virtually ignoring her protagonist's père altogether. Caught up in the rapture of, yes, first love, Camille is left bereft when her boyfriend Sullivan decides, with an almost Rohmerian sense of moral certitude (or perverse stubbornness), that he has to travel and experience the world. Finding solace with another, older lover, Camille is ultimately unsatisfied with having to choose only one path to happiness; and when she eventually restarts her affair with Sullivan when he re-enters her life, she does so very much on her own terms, with a maturity and wisdom borne of her new experience. As with Camille, the heroines of Tout est pardonné and The Father of My Children are ultimately on a quest for self-definition, their absent fathers both actual persons and symbolic projections of the people they are seeking to become; the past becomes a gateway to the future, dependence gives way to self-reliance. Hansen-Løve's are not "coming-of-age" films, but cinematic Bildungsromans: they are about the getting of wisdom, in the realm of emotions as much as in that of intellect.
— Brad Deane
Special thanks to Claire La Masne and Laure Dahout, Consulat général de France à Toronto; Jean-Baptiste Garnero, CNC — Archives Françaises du Film.