Léa Seydoux’s Moody Star Power Bolsters Bleak Drama One Fine MorningMovies Reviews Mia Hansen-Løve
This review originally ran as part of Paste’s New York Film Festival coverage.
Léa Seydoux isn’t the only film actor able to tease desire out of sadness and vice versa, but she may be the reigning champion in the under-40 division. In Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning, Seydoux is, like so many of us, further than ever from her ingenue days (even her Bond Girl took a turn for the domestic with last year’s No Time to Die), and her character Sandra is beset with workaday responsibilities. She’s the widowed single mother to preteen daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins), while also navigating healthcare decisions for her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), who is suffering from a neurodegenerative disorder.
Much of Sandra’s life, then, is divided between various forms of caregiving, and her job as a translator requires full concentration in the moment; as we see in one scene, even a brief rumination for herself can send her work off track. So when she reconnects with her old friend Clément (Melvil Poupand)—whom she originally met through her late partner—there doesn’t seem to be much immediate expectation beyond the opportunity to take a pleasant breather from the rest of her life. Besides, Clément is married, with a child of his own. But the two see each other again, and suddenly fall into a passionate (if possibly ill-advised) affair.
For a little while, Hansen-Løve’s film seems to be exhibiting a different form of Woody Allen influence, after last year’s Bergman Island, which played like a more sophisticated and less solipsistic (if also less funny) cross between Allen’s Bergman obsession and his half-forgotten 2005 dramedy Melinda and Melinda. One Fine Morning dims the bucolic, blue-green tones of Bergman in favor of less elegant, more workmanlike melancholy, as Sandra and Clément figure out the logistics of their affair—a tedious Allen standby in so many of his later films. But—vive la France?—the sneaking around doesn’t last too long, though the situation’s messiness lingers anyway. Meanwhile, Georg moves from one temporary home to another, as his family packs up his old apartment and tries to find the right facility for him to spend his final years.
Hansen-Løve doesn’t force the connections between these two storylines, though of course they reflect each other. Georg’s condition forces Sandra to confront the unpleasant realities and regrets of aging (the film’s title comes from his notes for an unwritten autobiography), which feels like a tacit encouragement to cherish the excitement she feels over Clément—as well as a reminder that no amount of sexual heat will reverse the chilliness of our inevitable decline. In opposite ways, both men challenge her early, casual assertion that “my love life is behind me”: Clément by raising the possibility of a new romantic relationship, and Georg by indirectly illustrating how glib that statement can seem compared to someone who has lost, and will continue to lose, so much more.
This kind of low-key yet pervasive moodiness, bordering on bleakness, needs all the star-level radiation it can get, and Seydoux luminates obligingly. Hansen-Løve doesn’t give her pages upon pages of dialogue to ruminate over her conflicts—some of that comes out in spats with Clément, and even there it’s reduced to more immediate, sometimes petulant disappointments—and Seydoux conveys plenty in her silence. A performer of her beauty and potential glamor runs the risk of reducing her character’s ennui to a kind of exquisite-sadness modeling pose, but she keeps Sandra moving forward, muddling through. In its smaller moments, sometimes in what looks like its margins, One Fine Morning is especially smart about parenthood, how it inspires such need and trepidation, and in such close proximity. (Sandra is especially unforgiving of her kid’s taste in movies, complaining about the assaultive style of one unnamed film, and later sloughing off a trip to see Frozen II.)
The film’s other performances aren’t as engaging as Seydoux and young Martins, which means One Fine Morning itself sometimes feels like it’s muddling through with Sandra’s same weariness, too faithfully reproducing the repetitions of real life. Amidst the over-many fraught texts and Clément’s hand-wringing over how (or if) to end his unhappy marriage, it’s hard not to miss the unforced loveliness of Bergman Island. That twinge of nostalgia for a very recent film becomes more pronounced when Hansen-Løve occasionally captures fleeting images of weary beauty, like a too-short shot of Seydoux on a public bus, eyes closed, framed by a window, with the city blurring past in the background. Maybe the brief respite is by design—an admission that we only have so much time for luxuriating in moods.
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory, Camille Leban Martins
Release Date: October 8, 2022 (NYFF)
Jesse Hassenger writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including The A.V. Club, Polygon, The Week, NME, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching, listening to, or eating.