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  • Reviewed from the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

The light-touch naturalism of Mia Hansen-Løve films is always rooted in autobiography. One Fine Morning stems from her experience of caring for her father as he succumbed to Benson’s Syndrome, a rare variant of Alzheimer’s that includes blindness. Léa Seydoux takes a break from glitzy star vehicles to play Sandra, an everywoman Parisian mother to the spirited young Camille (Camille Leban Martins). Sandra is constantly on the move (MHL characters tend to spend a lot of time walking), a result of juggling caring responsibilities and working as a translator. She is a single mother – as Camille’s father died five years previously – and a doting daughter, as her own father slowly forgets himself.

To flesh out this slow-burn domestic heartbreak, Hansen-Løve asks: what if, at the same time as losing someone, you were gaining someone else? One fine morning in the park she runs into an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud), who swiftly becomes her lover. Their relationship is hardly smooth sailing. He is married with a child of his own. Sandra must deal with two men who hold her in confused regard.

As Sandra’s father, Georg, Pascal Greggory turns in a phenomenal performance that serves as the heart of the film. Before his illness, Georg was a brilliant academic whose most treasured possessions were his books. These books still line his apartment, lovingly arranged by colour. They serve as a visual representation for the world he is now locked out of by the failure of his eyesight. It is not MHL’s style to labour sentiment. She presents information in a scene without underlining anything and lets the viewer draw their own conclusions.

Pascal Greggory as Georg with Seydoux in One Fine Day

Sandra’s desire for release from service to loved ones is never explicitly stated; rather it is implied in the way she embraces sexual healing. Clément has one of the world’s most romantic jobs: he is a cosmo chemist who travels the world collecting extraterrestrial dust from the earth and the sea. While Sandra has been tied to Paris, he has been encountering a sea leopard on an Arctic flow. He invites her to visit his laboratory where, after inspecting various gadgets, Sandra inspects his tonsils with her tongue. He represents a wider world of possibilities by the very nature of what he does.

As their affair proceeds full steam ahead, suspension of disbelief is required to buy Seydoux as a woman who, pre-Clément, thought that her love life was over. Even a severe haircut and a plain wardrobe cannot suppress her raw sex appeal. Imagine Marilyn Monroe in 1953 playing a dowdy widow. The gentle visual language of MHL films is in a mode that favours unknown or low-key actors, such as Lola Créton in Goodbye, First Love and Félix de Givry in Eden. Still, Seydoux does all she can to pull against her innate smoulder in a performance that is fully free of affect.

One Fine Morning is more talky than a lot of MHL’s work, for a long time precluding the quiet lulls that would enable its emotional themes to land. When those lulls do finally appear, then, as reliably happens with her films, everything that has taken place before stealthy culminates in a moment of sublime emotional synthesis. One such moment occurs when Sandra is on a train after checking out a new nursing home for her father. She is leaning against a window when she receives a text from Clément, so we see her face twice – directly and in the glass reflection – as it cycles through ten emotions in ten seconds. Joy, relief and exhaustion struggle for expression. Love is back; illness still lurks.

A theme that crops up in Goodbye, First Love; Things to Come; Maya and Bergman Island is that love is a fire that burns brightly but always ends. MHL presents Clément without judgement (as she does with all her characters) while showing how Sandra suffers as he comes and goes, unsure of when, and indeed if, he will return. Additional stakes arise from how much Camille adores him. When the trio are together, there seems to be hope that families can grow, not just shrink. Even more dominant than romance as a recurring MHL theme is the sense of a person forging a path forward amidst chronic uncertainty. One Fine Morning ends on a freeze-frame, a surprisingly cheesy choice that still captures a fleeting moment of promise.

Sight and Sound, Summer 2022

Sight and Sound celebrates its 90th anniversary in style. Plus: the Cannes bulletin, Pedro Almodóvar, Ukrainian cinema, The Innocents and Edgar Wright interviewing Daniels.

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