As she was getting older, director Cecilia Aldarondo decided to turn her lens towards her past, complete with all its personal mishaps and traumas. She does this, not only by confronting her own memories and the remnants that can be visualized through home video, but she recreates some of her most cringe and haunting adolescent memories. The result is a film that thrives when it’s funny as Aldarondo exhibits an acute awareness of the humor that comes from the pain of teenhood. Aldarondo gives the film a sense of energy through candid jokes and stop motion animation that gives life to the still photographs of her friends and family, often surrounded by moments in pop culture to which she attached her dreams of romance and happiness.
The film’s title may indicate a woman’s indulgent journey into the woes of her young love life but that is simply a Russian doll for the profound themes that Aldarondo aims to tackle. It channels The Rehearsal, Aftersun, Pen15, Teen Moviesand Arthouse into an absolute personal triumph. The film covers the longing of youthful passion, the scarcity of self-security and the precarious nature of friendship in a very honest way that is able to often make you laugh and make you sad.
First Boyfriend is made in such a way that there is no denying the heartfelt emotion put into every frame and spoken word. It is also so hyper specific that there are parts that I simply couldn’t connect with and the filmmaking isn’t such that there is universal visual language to support those emotions. (Personally, I think that it’s for the better as there should be a lot of parts of this film that reflect a lot of different coming of age experiences, especially those of women.)
When you get older, we only get one chance to figure out who we were and what’s important to us. For Aldarondo, it was the people that she was in relationship with who mattered most. They were the ones that she could be any version of herself and they would still accept and love her. Documentary often sees filmmakers showing the importance of reflection and, while most people won’t recreate their darkest memories on a film set to try and overcome the insecurities they left her with, Aldarondo is able to come to a new conclusion about how she’ll live her life and how she can honor those she loves in the present. I think she hopes you will do the same.
You Were My First Boyfriend is now playing at HotDocs ’23. For more information, click here.