Life does not stop for anything, not even death. Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film, One Fine Morning, teaches this lesson the hard way, as it centers on Sandra (played by Léa Seydoux), while she balances her responsibilities as a mother, as a daughter, and as a lover.
One of the most horrific, unalterable, and oftentimes devastating factors of life is that, no matter how slowly or quickly time passes for us, we will age and eventually reach the end of our lives. Some may feel impassioned by this, using it as an opportunity to aspire for great things, while others may merely accept the inevitability of it all. Sandra seems to do the latter. Throughout this 112-minute character piece, this thirtysomething woman refuses to become swept up in her father’s neurodegenerative disease and in her new affair with a married man. Instead, she treats them both as menial parts of her life: she does what she needs to do, whether that is a scheduled visit or a playful romp, and then continues with the rest of her life as a single parent to her eight-year-old, Linn (Camille Leban Martins), and as a listening ear to her mother and sister. While it may sound harsh, it is anything but that; she is still emotionally invested and even sheds tears upon disappointment. But it is this hefty compartmentalizing that allows her to be present in each moment and shift between the contrasting people and events in her life.
Directed and written by Mia Hansen-Løve, this emotional drama slots its way into our post-COVID-but-not-really world, taking its audience on a journey of grief and lost time, inspired by the filmmaker’s own experience of losing her father. Hansen-Løve is known for drawing inspiration from her personal life to enrich her works and give them an undeniable level of authenticity and reality, with previous works drawing inspiration from her late mentor Humbert Balsan and her brother Sven. Despite having found her niche, she remains unafraid to test new styles and themes. Her previous work Bergman Island dives headfirst into melodramatic subplots and over-the-top imagery, while One Fine Morning, conversely, does the opposite. Instead, the film accepts the mundane in day-to-day life, offering up a simple story with ordinary characters who face fairly common tragedies and heartbreaks.
Yet regardless of these happenings feeling like collective human experiences, One Fine Morning is brought to life by a complex script that not only highlights the intersection of these various aspects of Sandra’s life, but also refuses to reveal all, leaving its audience to draw their own inferences. It also features a charming performance by Léa Seydoux, who plays the lead with a careful understanding of her fragility and self-preserving nature.
As they pay visits to their aging family members, go on trips to the park and cinema, and celebrate holidays, the matriarch demonstrates that quality time with loved ones is limited and exists beyond familial duties.
Sandra stands by her father Georg’s side as his disease worsens and, along with her sister, her mother—a divorcee—and her father’s medical team, she assists him during his transition to a nursing home. Georg (Pascal Greggory) has lost his memory, his eyesight, and many cognitive functions, including motor skills and the ability to use the washroom without assistance. During this tumultuous move, Sandra is hesitant to disassemble his environment.
As a beloved philosophy professor, Georg’s entire life is cooped up in the small apartment that’s towering with books, notebooks, and artwork. In a sweet turn of events, Sandra finds the strength to begin downsizing after bumping into one of his old students who is eager to hold on to Georg’s prized collection. However, this interaction also unveils a part of Sandra’s background that continues to nag at her. The person that the student has grown to admire is much different from the father Sandra grew up with—conservative with his affection and, in his aging years, closer to his caretaker than his kin.
As a mother, Sandra uses her time with her daughter to teach valuable lessons. As they pay visits to their aging family members, go on trips to the park and cinema, and celebrate holidays, the matriarch demonstrates that quality time with loved ones is limited and exists beyond familial duties. This wisdom and groundedness seeps into Sandra’s love affair with her dear friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud). Rather than playing into cliches, the two adopt a slow and natural gravitation towards one another, cementing their relationship after a series of flirty hangouts, and continuing into anticipatory territory as Sandra expresses her hesitancy to be intimate after her partner’s death and as Clément divides his attention between her and his wife and son.
While the film is not necessarily explosive, it is abrasive and complex. Sandra’s personal relationships ebb and flow as the various situations escalate. Her daughter has a quiet temper—once even accusing her mom of disliking “everything” that she likes. Clément is stuck at a crossroads between his family and his relationship with Sandra. Her mother relishes her current love life while still caring for the wellbeing of Georg, and her father bounces through care facilities and trails further into his illness. Contrasting the film’s softness, moments of selfishness exist in these storylines, even casting an ugly light upon Georg, not in his vulnerable state, but in recollections of his previous harshness towards his family, experiences that leave Sandra averting her eyes or removing herself from the room when reminded of his relationship with his long-time caretaker.
Hansen-Løve’s movie is a beautiful and devastating drama that leaves its viewers desperate to better understand its leads. Yet through its ambiguity, it delivers a brilliantly subtle work about love and the painful inevitability of loss.
Read our exclusive Q&A with Mia Hansen-Løve here.