One Fine Morning review: Léa Seydoux is quietly radiant in a bittersweet character study

Léa Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in One Fine Morning
Léa Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in One Fine Morning

Actor-turned-noted director Mia Hansen-Løve has said that her films as a director are not autobiographical, though they are “intimate” and scripted by her alone. Still, Eden, Things to Come, Father of My Children, and even Bergman Island feature events or people that mirror events or people in the filmmaker’s life. Her movies are thoughtful and considered, generally about romantic and familial relationships, and they usually pose questions about the meaning of life itself. One Fine Morning is consistent with her canon in tone and narrative. It’s quiet, languidly paced, and beautifully composed; it’s saturated with primary colors by veteran cinematographer Denis Lenior, who shot all of Hansen-Løve’s previous films. One Fine Morning is about people, family, friends, lovers, their disappointments, and their passions. It’s bitter and sweet, but mostly bitter. It’s lovely, but mostly not autobiographical.

Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux) is a young widow with an 8-year-old daughter (Camille Leban Martins). She has a fulfilling job as a translator and a personal life that includes a sister and accomplished parents. Her father, Georg (played by veteran French actor Pascal Greggory), is a noted lecturer and writer, loved by his former students and his two daughters, but especially by Sandra, who, like her father, mostly lives a life of the mind and heart. He’s less loved, but still cared for, by his ex-wife, Francoise. She’s also a noted scholar and she’s played by the excellent actor/director Nicole Garcia, whose many exceptional films include 1980’s My American Uncle and 2001’s Alias Betty.

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Georg has a neurodegenerative disease that is slowly stealing his memories and mind. Plus, he’s frail and nearly blind. He’s no longer able to live by himself, and much of the film is about these women moving Georg from care home to care home in search of a place both clean and safe. It’s a heart-wrenching and ever more familiar family circumstance. Indeed, it’s a circumstance that mirrors Hansen-Løve’s own life. Her father is Ole Hansen-Løve, the noted philosopher who suffered from a disease not unlike the one afflicting Georg in the film. Mia, her mother, and her brother, Sven Hansen-Løve (the groundbreaking DJ and producer), cared for the elder Hansen-Løve until his death in 2020. Like Sandra’s mother in the movie, Mia’s mother, Laurence Hansen-Løve, is also an influential philosopher who divorced Mia’s father many years ago, though they maintained close familial relations, as does the mother in One Fine Morning. Maybe the film isn’t strictly autobiographical, but it is intimate and personal, which is why it feels so authentic.

By chance, Sandra runs into an old friend and associate of her late husband, Clement (Melvil Poupaud). They are immediately attracted to each other—as they were years ago when Sandra was married and frustrated, and Clement’s character was more honorable. Back then, he avoided her. Presently, he is married and has a child, while Sandra is a widow and still frustrated. Clement’s marriage is unhappy, and his character isn’t as noble as he once was. So they begin a passionate affair. Yet even as their passions are satiated with unbridled lust, they both know they need something the other cannot give. Sandra wants Clement fully; Clement does not want to hurt his family. He wants her to “understand my situation.”

ONE FINE MORNING | Official Trailer (2022)

As we work our way through the story of Sandra and her affair with a married man, along with the story of her beloved father, the characters, tensions, and dramas we encounter are scaled to recognizable sizes. They are the circumstances and conditions of life. A spouse dies, parents age and fade, and marriages fade and die, too. Love is lost and found and lost and found again.

As noted, Hansen-Løve does not think of her films as autobiographical, however much they mirror her life. Perhaps she’s right. Making films about subjects so fundamental as these may inevitably make them feel biographical to all of us, whether intentional or not. In any case, One Fine Morning is a fine addition to a body of intimate, understandable, and familiar films that are well-made and well-done.

(One Fine Morning opens in theaters nationwide on January 27.)

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