Film Review – One Fine Morning
One Fine Morning
For many, life is not made up of big sweeping moments, but of small intimate struggles. Going to work, making money, taking care of our loved ones – these are the responsibilities that make up our daily existence. But the small things can eventually build into something larger. Sometimes, we put so much effort into balancing all the spinning plates that we forget to take a moment to breathe. Life is fleeting – the generation that once was must make way for the next. Father Time waits for no one, and how we handle that reality can be difficult and messy, but also beautiful and sublime. When we know that our time is limited, that gives us the opportunity to take in each and every moment. We may not always make the right decisions, but that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Learning and growing and moving on is what makes the journey special.
In that way, writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve’s French film, One Fine Morning (2022) is as true and honest as any in recent memory. Following up her critically acclaimed Bergman Island (2021), Hansen-Løve’s latest is a story of a young woman dealing with the ups and downs of family, work, and relationships. But the narrative has such an authentic and sincere quality – in both performance and execution – that its power blindsides us. This is a slice of life tale that operates on a universal level. The joys and hardships the main protagonist faces are the same ones we go through as well. We are placed into the character’s shoes because their story is so relatable. We know these people, we empathize for their situation because we have been there as well – or are going through it at the same time.
Sandra (Léa Seydoux) is caught in the whirlwind of her own life. She must act as the steady ship holding everything together. Her father (Pascal Greggory) suffers from a degenerative disease that causes him to lose his memory. He is unable to perform regular tasks on his own and is need of constant supervision. Sandra – in coordination with her mother and siblings – must find a facility that is affordable and has the resources to keep her father safe. Sandra is also a single mom, raising her daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) and working as a translator. When she is not helping with her father, we see Sandra taking Linn to and from school, or working in a booth translating live talks. She is constantly operating for the needs of others, being present and available at all times. Sandra rarely has time for herself. Perhaps this is why, after a chance encounter with an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud), she enters an on again/off again affair. Their encounters divide Sandra’s duties – often a mere few hours before the rest of her life comes calling.
One Fine Morning has a natural, underplayed style. Scenes are constructed with characters talking plainly about themselves and each other. Conversations take place in confined apartments or while on walks around the city. Hansen-Løve’s direction is observant but unobtrusive. The cinematography (Denis Lenoir) is straightforward, lacking any kind of overt camera tricks. The approach may seem plain and unremarkable at first, but it allows the writing and performances to unfold without distraction. The narrative works in the details. Bits of dialogue, a subtle gesture, a change in expression, etc. – these elements stack on top of each other to create a tapestry of the characters. It’s as if the camera was placed in the middle of a room or street corner and just happens to catch Sandra in the middle of some important task. The organic, restrained means of Hansen-Løve’s direction creates a stage for her actors to showcase their abilities.
Much like her character, Léa Seydoux’s performance is the glue that holds the entire film together. She is asked to tackle several emotions – from sturdy and reliable, to sweet, and vulnerable – and accomplishes each with believability. Seydoux makes Sandra feel like a flesh a blood person, full of compassion and love but also uncertainty and insecurity. The strength of her performance resides in her face. Subtle glances are all we need to know what she is thinking. In few words, Sandra shares her feelings about her father, her daughter, and in sleeping with a married man. Notice the way she tries to hide the sadness bubbling beneath her surface – how she has to turn away or leave the room so that no one will see the tears welling up her eyes. She has guilt about being in a relationship with Clément, but her need to feel something causes her to hold out hope that they will end up together. Seydoux’s performance is staggering without pretension – she generates an emotional reaction without forcing it.
I may not be in the exact position that Sandra is, but I can relate with much of what she is going through. I too have parents that are getting older, and I also have a young child that needs to be looked after. One day, my parents will no longer be around. Eventually, my kid will reach an age where they will refuse to hold my hand or ask that I carry them whenever they are frightened. While this may be a depressing thought, in its own weird way it is also profound. Our time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted. It seems that is what Sandra is trying to do – to push through the heartache and obstacles of everyday life to find a glimmer of happiness. We see this in scenes of tenderness: sharing ice cream with her daughter, or in the flirtations she has with Clément. Yes, things are not perfect, but at least she is doing her best for herself and all those around her. Sandra takes advantage of whatever joys there are to be had.
One Fine Morning is the kind of movie where its effect is apparent long after seeing it. It moves and flows with finesse. We realize that these are people we run into all the time in real life. They are our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and lovers. They are strangers we pass by on the street or the relative we’ve known for decades. Mia Hansen-Løve has created a story with such intelligence, warmth, and insight that any person from any walk of life can see themselves in it.