Despite a premise, title and poster that speaks to the romantic comedy genre, Forever First Love, written and directed by Brisbane-based photographer Luke Mayze, is a considerably more dramatic affair. There’s an almost documentary-like quality to the way Mayze has framed his leads and written their dialogue, with the at-times flowing, other-times stilted conversations feeling spontaneous and unrehearsed.
A photographer on assignment in the Philippines, Paul (Steven Rooke) can’t believe his luck when he spots Anna (Carlotta Morelli) in the crowd. Not just a mere sighting of a beautiful stranger, Paul and Anna have a romantic history that extends back to their teen years, both having not seen each other in the 16 years that have since passed from their summer of first love. Their reunion on the streets of a Filipino marketplace is suitably both awkward and exciting, and seeming unsure if she wants to entertain the idea of reminiscing, Anna, also there for work, greets him farewell as quickly as she says hello. Paul isn’t taking that answer lightly, and soon they are travelling the lush countryside together, appearing to once again draw each other closer before certain respective character traits threaten to pull them apart.
She’s headstrong and has quite open views on the notion of monogamy and love, he’s a bit more of a realist and almost childish when she dares to oppose his ideas, but there’s an undeniable chemistry between the two, something that only makes the knowing this is only a fleeting encounter all the more painful, especially for the more emotional Paul. Bringing to mind such dialogue-driven affairs as the Before Sunrise films, Mayze has written this film as more of a snapshot into a moment in time, rather than laying the foundations for a relationship to become invested in. Despite their history, the film rarely hides its intentions in suggesting this’ll be far from the stereotypical romantic conclusion we expect. And it’s that defiance that helps set the film apart.
The conversations between Paul and Anna have a naturalistic manner to them in the way their answers confuse, frustrate, and inspire the other, and it’s a testament to Mayze’s writing and both Rooke and Morelli’s performances that it never feels like we are watching two people “act”, rather just two people; it’s almost voyeuristic the way we listen to their conversations and witness their eventual sexual embrace.
The sadness that is tinged over Forever First Love could keep it from being lovingly embraced by audiences wanting something happier and more in tune with the escapism the genre often provides, but it’s the fact that Mayze’s film is as relatable as it is – even if we don’t want to admit to seeing our own flaws in Paul and Anna – that makes it a welcome diversion from the usual fare.
Forever First Love is currently screening exclusively through New Farm Cinemas and Elizabeth Street Picture Theatre in Brisbane, Australia. It will begin its global digital release from September 3rd, 2021.