‘One Fine Morning’ review: Léa Seydoux at her best

Just before the beginning and end of One Fine Morning, Mia Hansen-Løve’s lucid, poignant and radiantly intelligent new film, Sandra (Léa Seydoux) stops by to see her father Georg (Pascal Greggory). The months between these two visits – although there were many other visits in between – have aged them both, Georg even more visibly. Already disoriented by his small Parisian apartment in the early scenes, due to a neurological illness that quickly takes its toll on his vision and memory, he ends up becoming less and less sure of his surroundings or even the identities of his visitors. You can see the passage of time in his distant gaze and slow shuffling gait, and you can see it too when Sandra, usually a calm, reassuring presence, steps aside and begins to cry.

Rest assured that I haven’t given anything away and that I doubt a more spoiler-proof film – or a more graceful, moving one – hits theaters this week. As with many films set at the pulse of ordinary life, one has the feeling that this could have ended a few bars earlier or better still later. Hansen-Løve, who wrote and directed both the screenplay and director, does not measure her stories by conventional narrative progression. She knows that real life drama is often incremental and that it takes shape through repetition, variation, major and minor complications. What happens to their characters – a visit, a meltdown, a setback, a breakthrough – rarely happens to them for the first or last time.

And so we follow Sandra, a widowed mother and freelance interpreter, through much of One Fine Morning through a familiar routine: checking in on her father, translating speeches and conversations for work, and picking up their baby daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins), from school. Even when Sandra has a fateful encounter with Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an old friend who is happily married and has a child of her own, her instant spark and easy flow of conversation point to the latest piece in a mosaic they have been building for while.

Sandra and Clément soon and without fanfare have an affair, which is full of passion, but like everything else has to be fitted into the parameters of everyday life and sometimes forced. Making love or not, staying together or spending time apart: no decision or development, big or small, exists in a vacuum. Here and in her earlier, equally well-observed dramas (“Eden”, “Things to Come”), Hansen-Løve has an intuitive sense of the fragmentation of life – something she hints at, sometimes opening scenes mid-conversation or mid-conversation and cuts gesture. (The relaxed editing is by Marion Monnier, the luminous cinematography by Denis Lenoir.)

Léa Seydoux and Pascal Greggory in the film "A nice morning."

Lea Seydoux and Pascal Greggory in the film One Fine Morning.

(Sony Pictures Classics)

She also has a collaborator in Seydoux whose incredible glamor and outsized dramatic gifts — she played a boisterous lover in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a popular TV journalist in France, and an unusually resonant and enigmatic Bond girl — have sometimes eclipsed their ability to work so furtively modest, so fine-grained and fully tangible. As Seydoux walks down the street in a sweater and a cropped Jean Seberg haircut, she dissolves beautifully into Sandra’s world. What draws you in just as much as the actor’s natural attraction is his ability to hold things back, his gift for emotional restraint. Like many people in real life, Sandra is in no rush to announce who she is, in part because she’s yet to find out.

And “One Fine Morning” is in no hurry to give us a hint either, with its gentle staccato rhythms and cunningly unpredictable structure. You could call this a film about a woman learning to say goodbye to her father while embracing the possibility of a new love, and you’d be right, albeit at the risk of sounding more schematic than it makes out. You might as well call it a film about the joys of walking Montmartre, sharing an ice cream cone, or hiding Christmas presents under the tree. Or the difficulties of navigating the French elderly care system, something Sandra has to do with her sister and her mother, Françoise (the actress and filmmaker Nicole Garcia), who divorced Georg years ago but is still a part at least now this is his life.

Expository flashbacks would contradict Hansen-Løve’s aims, but here, with wordless economy, she opens a window into past stories, past experiences. They wonder about Françoise and Georg’s past life together, particularly their shared intellectual life, which the film alludes to with their matching wall-to-wall bookshelves. A bookshelf is never just a bookshelf in a Mia Hansen Love film; It is a collection of memories, a statement of identity and an index of a life well lived. In one of the film’s softest moments, Sandra muses, “I feel closer to my father with his books than with him” – a line that connects her memory of who he was and her sadness at that memory, which is slowly beginning to fade .

Lea Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in "A nice morning."

Lea Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in One Fine Morning.

(Carole Bethuel/Les Films Pelléas/Sony Pictures Classics)

Like Isabelle Huppert’s protagonist in Things to Come, Georg – played with painful sensitivity by Greggory – is a philosophy teacher, and One Fine Morning itself feels effortlessly, casually philosophical. Unencumbered by obvious symbolism or windy rhetoric, even if the characters tend to their own moments of introspection, it speaks quietly and confidently about how we live and interact with one another, how we care for young and old, and everyone in between, including ourselves. The answers that emerge are never fixed, and it is here that Hansen-Løve’s use of repetition proves particularly revealing—not just a reminder of life’s stasis, but a measure of one’s ability to move forward.

On a tour of a nursing home for Georg, Sandra is confronted with what will become a familiar event: an elderly resident unexpectedly stumbles into the wrong room. The first time it happens comes as a bit of a shock to Sandra and her family, who have been taking care of each other without knowing what it means to be a caretaker. The third or fourth time, they learned to step in, take that unexpected visitor by the arm and help him find his way. It’s a simple, fleeting gesture, almost skipped by the camera and barely noticed by the workers who perform the same gesture every day. But in this wonderfully bittersweet and generous film – which, like life itself, makes no distinction between the significant and the insignificant – it also somehow means the world.

“A nice morning”

In French with English subtitles

Rated: R, for some sexuality, nudity and language

To play: Lammle Royal, West Los Angeles

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-12-09/one-fine-morning-review-lea-seydoux-mia-hansen-l%C3%B8ve ‘One Fine Morning’ review: Léa Seydoux at her best

Sarah Ridley

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