French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love has been a tour de force in global cinema for decades now. Her unique cinematic style tackles the complexity of youth, desire, and morality all the while embracing beauty, romanticism, and sexual expression with panache. One Fine Morning, her eighth feature maintains her consistent realistic narrative style laced with subtle emotional undercurrents. This charming, heartwarming drama is disarmingly basic in form and infused with profound sentiment.
Lea Seydoux is Sandra, who rediscovers romance while negotiating her responsibilities as an attentive mother and a worried daughter. Under Mia Hansen-Love’s luminous direction, this is a complex account of a mother juggling numerous obligations and life’s hardships. It’s a meticulous portrait of a woman navigating a world of emotions while learning to negotiate with life.
The story centers around Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux), a widow who lives with her daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) in Paris and earns a livelihood as a translator and interpreter. She looks after her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy instructor afflicted with a neurological condition that has left his cognitive and visual functions impaired.
One day in the park, she runs into Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a married chemical cosmologist and friend of her late husband. The chance meeting soon turns into a serious affair. Sandra is informed of Georg’s deteriorating condition by her mother, Françoise (Nicole Garcia), who’s divorced Georg but still provides support for him. She decides to admit his father to the hospital, where Georg frequently talks about his girlfriend.
Sandra observes a change in his condition and, due to various unavoidable circumstances, ultimately moves him to a private residence. In the meantime, Sandra and Clément’s relationship begins to disintegrate since he lacks the confidence to leave his wife and son. Moreover, she doesn’t want to be designated as a mistress in this clandestine relationship.
The beauty of the film is derived from its treatment, which is structured around non-descriptive events in the protagonist’s life. Sandra is an ordinary woman with no conventional heroic features. But the battle she has to undergo throughout the film amplifies her calm and steely attitude towards life. To begin with, she’s a single mother trying to raise an educated, empathetic young adult. In addition, she is aware that her father’s meager pension could not provide him with top-notch medical facilities. But she struggles enough to avail Georg of a decent service.
Undoubtedly dutiful and responsible, she yearns for emotional fulfillment in her life. Following her husband’s death, she’s spent almost five years alone and now questions if she’ll ever find love again. But for Sandra, what’s more desperate than her harsh reality is the spiritual loneliness and confusion she has to encounter in every phase of her life. So, when Clément enters her life, she gives everything to this relationship, despite the fact that her partner is a married man with dubious intentions.
The filmmaker has designed Sandra‘s character to convey suppressed and overwhelming emotions that can only be discerned through her expressions and body language. She’s less concerned with the protagonists’ ultimate resolution than making us a part of her journey. As the film ends, we’re uncertain whether familial duty or emotional spontaneity between Sandra and Clément will prevail.
Impressively, so much of what the film accomplishes is done without relying on highly dramatic plot points. Hansen-Love’s screenplay boasts finely-drawn characters and skillful control over dialogue, tightly weaving a storyline without succumbing to melodrama. Deftly edited by Marion Monnier, the episodic nature of the film builds up its tempo in a well-knit pattern. He never lets the momentum of the story slow down and gives the film a subdued sense of drama. Denis Lenoir’s cinematography captures every scene in varying shades of light and dark, conveying its poetic perspective and style with elegance.
Lea Seydoux as Sandra puts all of her focus into a role that is portrayed with restraint. She delivers a note-perfect warm and wry performance as a strong-willed woman whose life is governed by circumstance. Seydoux’s perfect understanding of the character makes Sandra a woman of substance with intellectual, emotional, and financial stability, conveying complex conflict through controlled physical gestures. We observe Sandra grow before our eyes, and believe what we see because Seydoux is doing it too.
Her co-actor, Melvil Poupaud, as Clément, also brings depth and shades to his character as an individual in the throes of a dilemma as a devoted husband and a committed lover entangled in a difficult relationship. Whereas, Pascal Greggory as Georg shows incredible power and discipline in his physiological deterioration and makes us empathize with him. Child actor Camille Leban Martins, as Linn, gives her character a touching innocence and lack of self-consciousness.
One Fine Morning effortlessly allows us to relate to its characters through the intricacies of their quotidian activities and its exquisitely observed and meticulously created situations. This is a well-crafted observational film that makes most other films on similar subjects look like wasted opportunities.
Where to Watch: Mubi
FTII alumnus and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in Scroll.in, The Hindu, Livemint.com, The Quint, The Tribune, Upperstall, among other publications.