- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
A beautiful Parisian woman; her ailing professor father; her married lover; wall-to-wall shelves teeming with books. On paper, it sounds like a narrative checklist for too many French films to count. But in the quietly miraculous One Fine Morning (Un beau matin), writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve and her leading lady Léa Seydoux make the old feel new again.
Premiering in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar — though it would have been a lovely competition selection — this is an immensely satisfying collaboration that finds both auteur and star further solidifying their spots among the greats of their respective fields.
One Fine Morning
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight)
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory, Nicole Garcia, Camille Leban Martins
Director-screenwriter: Mia Hansen-Løve
Hansen-Løve’s 2021 standout Bergman Island may have been more conceptually ambitious, but her new movie is, if anything, more emotionally complex — a return to the aching drama and sly comedy of everyday existence that the writer-director mastered with her 2016 Isabelle Huppert vehicle Things to Come. Like that low-key triumph, One Fine Morning is concerned with life’s curveballs and catastrophes, as well as its unforeseen joys. And, among other things, it’s the latest evidence that few filmmakers evoke the passage of time, the changes that accompany it, and how we fumble and flail, but ultimately adapt, with the understated poignancy of Hansen-Løve.
While Things to Come is a companion piece, One Fine Morning picks up themes Hansen-Løve has been exploring throughout her career: mortality, heartbreak, parent-child relationships, the meaning of independence, the sustaining power of intellectual passion. It’s also about sex, philosophy, healthcare and the transmission of culture from generation to generation. Which is to say that, in its stealthy manner, the movie is about French society and French cinema — the way the latter engages and reflects the former and manages (via films like this one, in addition to recent releases Anaïs in Love and Paris, 13th District) to renew, if not wholly reinvent, itself.
That’s a lot of baggage for one 112-minute movie. But it’s a tribute to Hansen-Løve’s singular gifts that One Fine Morning is as warm and lively as it is, buoyed by brisk pacing and touches of humor alternately mordant and sweet. Much of what transpires is bleak, but unlike many of her contemporaries on the Euro and U.S. arthouse scenes, Hansen-Løve isn’t interested in punishing either her characters or the audience; as always, the director rigorously avoids melodrama and miserabilism. Despite the stress and suffering onscreen, the overriding mood is one of wistful serenity, colored by a softly insistent faith that, yes, life does indeed go on.
If One Fine Morning is a tale of hardship, it’s also about a woman who, like the reed in the Aesop and La Fontaine fables, “bends and does not break” — who withstands turbulence by adjusting, shifting her priorities and allowing herself the pleasures that make the most excruciating times endurable.
At the center of it all is Seydoux, who both anchors the film and nudges it, as Huppert did in Things to Come, toward the sublime. She’s the rare star equally adept at cranking up the wattage — her gaze can smolder with the best of them, and she knows how to give lines a showstopping urgency — and turning it down enough to slip credibly into the skin of ordinary women. Here, she acts with a deep intuitiveness and empathy, pulling you close to her beleaguered character without making her, for a second, an object of pity.
It may take you a few seconds to recognize Seydoux in the opening shot, as she makes her way down a Parisian street, toward the camera. With practical jeans, close-cropped hair and no performative va-va-voom, Sandra is a far cry from Madeleine Swann, the sultry Bond love interest the actress played in the franchise’s last two entries.
A single working mother with an elementary-school-age daughter (the wonderfully impish Camille Leban Martins), Sandra seems to have been on autopilot since her husband died five years ago. Early scenes show her hustling from rendez-vous to rendez-vous as she juggles a career as an interpreter (translating from English and German into French at commemorations and conferences), school pick-ups and drop-offs and various family obligations. The latter mostly entail tending to her father, Georg (a moving Pascal Greggory), a philosophy professor battling a neurodegenerative disease.
Sandra’s flighty leftist mother (Nicole Garcia, a raspy-voiced delight) — divorced from Georg and now remarried — and sister (Sarah Le Picard), along with Georg’s partner (Fejria Deliba), help Sandra navigate the maddening maze of elder care: They move Georg out of his apartment, into a hospital and then from senior facility to senior facility, each marginally less grim than the last. But you can see the toll of always putting other people’s needs before her own in Sandra’s fatigue-rimmed eyes, her slightly slumped shoulders and a stoic expression that often appears ready to crumple into despondency.
Sandra’s survival mode is disrupted when she runs into Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an old friend of hers and her late husband’s, with his son one day. A tentative flirtation leads to a kiss and then a full-blown romance. Clément is married, but unhappily, and the relationship between him and Sandra unfolds with a tender sensuality, and then an acute sense of vulnerability — of two people finding desperately needed relief and release in each other’s bodies.
While Sandra grows closer to Clément, opening herself to a kind of happiness she believed was behind her, she also — perhaps as an unconscious measure of self-preservation — starts gently detaching from her father. As one formative male figure slips from her world, Sandra makes space for another.
That said, this is not the story of a woman subsumed by men. While you may find yourself, at times, frustrated with Sandra for putting up with Clément’s indecisiveness, Hansen-Løve is too insightful a reader of the human heart and mind to spoon-feed us any contrived feminist kiss-offs. Sandra isn’t a martyr or victim; she’s human, and lonely, with yearnings more powerful than practicality or pride. Seydoux and Hansen-Løve convey such a generous, precise feel for who Sandra is that you want for her whatever she wants at that moment — whether it’s pulling back from Clément or pressing forward.
There’s an emotional richness and authenticity to Seydoux’s work here that distinguish it as possibly her best yet. The actress gives Sandra’s decency — her efforts to do the best she can for the people in her life without sinking herself in the process — an enthralling moment-to-moment immediacy: Watch her features collapse in hushed disappointment when Clément tells her he’s going back to his wife; or the ripples of elation across her face when she receives an affectionate text message from him; or the anxious devotion with which she listens to her father’s digressions, helping him complete thoughts, looking for shreds of meaning to grasp onto.
Poupaud is also superb in a performance that underlines the sincere ardor beneath his character’s vacillations. Clément isn’t a scoundrel or cad; he’s a man overwhelmed by his feelings for Sandra but struggling to untangle them from his sense of moral obligation (he’s more comfortable cheerfully expounding on his career in cosmochemistry). The tug-of-war between desire and duty is something Clément and Sandra have in common, even if they don’t realize it yet.
Hansen-Løve directs with her trademark unfussy, unflashy suppleness, the restrained naturalism punctuated by lusher touches: One embrace between Sandra and Clément, reunited at a café after a time apart, is choreographed with the classical precision and grace of a climactic pas de deux. Hansen-Løve sets that moment and many others to an exquisite theme, at once melancholy and nimble, by Swedish composer Jan Johansson — and once more offers a master class in using music to coax out, rather than dictate, a viewer’s response. (Other filmmakers should also take note of how she cuts away before a scene starts to drag or nag.)
Shot on film (Hansen-Løve teams up again with DP Denis Lenoir), One Fine Morning captures Paris through the seasons with a tactility that makes you feel the damp chill of the winter mist and the bright, itchy heat of the summer sun. The lived-in sense of place mirrors the textured realness of the characters and their relationships, the complicated, fully-formed histories you can intuit from even their most fleeting exchanges.
That these people indeed seem to exist beyond the frames of the film is a testament to Hansen-Løve, who — like One Fine Morning’s heroine — continues to evolve, refining her craft and worldview, and delivering movies like gifts to be unwrapped.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Production companies: Les Films Pelleas, Razor Film Produktion, Arte France Cinema, Bayerischer Rundfunk
Director/writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory, Nicole Garcia, Camille Leban Martins
Producers: David Thion, Philippe Martin
Co-producers: Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul
Cinematographer: Denis Lenoir
Editor: Marion Monnier
Set designer: Mila Preli
Costumes: Judith De Luze
Casting: Youna De Peretti
International sales: Les Films du Losange
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
More from The Hollywood Reporter
‘The Flash’ Director Andy Muschietti Supports Ezra Miller Returning to Lead Potential Sequels
You Hurt My Feelings
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ Team Break Down Fallout From “Betrayal”
‘Little Girl Blue’ Review: Marion Cotillard Plays a Troubled Mother in Powerful and Personal Doc/Psychodrama Hybrid