Director: Mia Hansen-Løve Mia Starring: Léa Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory, Nicole Garcia Running Time: 112 minutes
Grief is an emotion unbound by tense and time. One can grieve something that hasn’t fully happened yet, or something in the moment of inevitable motion, just as strongly as the pains of the past. Léa Seydoux’s Sandra in One Fine Morning is a widower, raising her young daughter Linn alone after the death of her husband, but Mia Hansen-Løve’s keenly felt drama isn’t concerned so much with the past, Sandra has too much already going on in her day-to-day life. We don’t see Sandra missing her husband in explicit, obvious words, focusing on the woman herself, we feel her yearning to be loved, to be supported, to be desired, even just, during her heavy and busy experiences, to find the reliefs of low stakes, relaxing, minor moments. Bittersweet, believable and emotionally rich, Hansen-Løve’s latest film is a story of an affair, but more so it’s an exploration of the very human desire for comfort.
On top of caring for Linn, Sandra’s time outside of her work as a translator and interpreter is mostly spent caring for her ailing father Georg (Pascal Greggory), and processing that he can no longer live independently. Diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Benson’s syndrome, which affects his sight and cognitive abilities, Georg is increasingly confused and confined, a once beloved philosophy professor now set to be placed in a care home. Sandra is going the extra mile to take care of him, with the help of her sister and her mother (Nicole Garcia), divorced from Georg but still involved, as well as Georg’s girlfriend Leila. Georg’s lucidity around his family comes and goes but he is consistently eager for and aware of Leila’s company; without his books to read or his memories to recall; that connection remains keenly felt.
Sandra meets Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a friend of her late husband’s and a man in a marriage distant both emotionally and literally. Their affair – passionate and invigorating, but fraught and awkward (Linn has questions for one) – provides a degree of emotional breathing room from losing her father in real time. These parrallel stories, of a daughter trying to hold on to her father as he slips away and of a woman crossing a line to find her own happiness, require a capable performance at the core, to tie them together and keep them emotionally accessible – Seydoux is well up to the task.
Playing Sandra requires a good degree of restraint, and Seydoux conveys her bottled up feelings clearly but quietly. The pain when her dad doesn’t recognise her and calls for his partner, the neediness she needs to spin into casual cool girl kidding for Clément. The resolute nature of the character is obvious, she’s a great mother and doing everything she can for her dad, so Seydoux has plenty of room to play vulnerable, going big on the tears in the very few moments when Sandra is alone.
Hansen-Løve’s direction is restrained, understandably but perhaps overly – these are the emotions of a melodrama played out in a realist drama. She keeps the focus on Seydoux, but there’s room to expand further, Greggory as her dad is a well-played performance of losing oneself and more of him would have been welcome, but again that’s part and parcel. A key story thread involves packing up and moving on Georg’s books as he’s getting ready for the nursing home, and in many ways its harder than physically moving the man himself. His presence is still there, but his particulars are gone, those are what we miss most. We are found in the things we love, the things we need, so it’s no wonder Sandra is adamant in her pursuit of the half-committal Clément.
Seydoux is powerfully complex in One Fine Morning, an assured drama with a considered perspective on life’s complexities.(3.5 / 5)
One Fine Morning is in Irish cinemas now and on Mubi from June 16th.