THE STORY – With a father suffering from neurodegenerative disease, a young woman lives with her eight-year-old daughter. While struggling to secure a decent nursing home, she runs into a friend who, although being in a relationship, embarks on an affair.
THE CAST – Léa Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory & Nicole Garcia
THE TEAM – Mia Hansen-Løve (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes
Mia Hansen-Løve films have a tendency to spring up on you unexpectedly. With a delicate touch and artful vision, she consistently captures the epic moments found in the mundanity of everyday life. Last year’s beautifully crafted “Bergman Island” delved into love, gender roles, and the power of cinema. In her eighth feature, “One Fine Morning,” Hansen-Løve’s snapshot of a seemingly simple life blooms before our eyes into a profound inquiry into the complexity of loss, love, and humanity itself.
Sandra (Léa Seydoux) is a young widow of five years raising her daughter in Paris. Her life is a demanding yet isolating rotation of visits with her aging and increasingly dependent father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), caring for her daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins), and working as a foreign language interpreter and translator. Georg has a degenerative disease known as Benson’s Syndrome, and his condition begins to decline rapidly. He loses his sight, his memories start to fade, and his ability to comprehend his surroundings diminishes. Sandra is left juggling both the practical and emotional implications of his decline. Where will he live? What will become of his belongings? Who will take the lifetime’s worth of art, the knife collection, the photos, the meticulously crafted library? And what of him will remain when it’s all gone? He is carted around a series of drab nursing homes while waiting for a room at a slightly less drab nursing home. His things are distributed amongst his children and former students. Running simultaneously to Georg’s decline is the blossoming of a new romance for Sandra. When she bumps into an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud), they fall in love and begin an affair. Theirs is a passionate but halting love story, plagued by the invisible presence of Clément’s wife and son. He leaves Sandra, comes back, leaves again, and is torn between love and familial responsibility. But neither Clément nor Sandra is to blame for the messiness of their affair.
Love, like life, may be complicated and sometimes cruel, but it is also ethically ambiguous. And life, Hansen-Løve seems to say, is equally hard to make sense of. As Georg’s mind and the material evidence of his life slowly disintegrate before Sandra’s eyes, she comes to accept that her father’s body no longer holds the man she once knew. A beloved philosophy professor, “his entire life was devoted to the act of thinking,” his ex-wife says. Sandra eventually realizes that she feels closer to her father when she’s with his books than when she’s with him in his nursing home. As she says to her daughter, Linn, “Each book is a touch of color, and together they form his personality.” On one of her final visits with Georg in the film, she watches as he hobbles out of his room, calling for his absent partner, Leia. He needs help. She should take him back to his room, comfort him, and explain to him, once again, where he is and why. But she leaves without a word. As her father’s condition worsens, Sandra can’t help but look to the future. “If we are still together in 30 years, promise me you’ll have me euthanized at the first sign of symptoms,” Sandra asks Clément.
“One Fine Morning” is a slow, meandering film in which plot progression is secondary to the exploration of philosophy and human emotion. The camera quietly follows Sandra through her world of book-filled Parisian apartments, dismal nursing homes, claustrophobic interpreter booths, and school pickups. Life happens to and around Sandra, and we enter her interior life by watching her react and respond. Seydoux’s mesmerizing performance makes this stream-of-consciousness type of filmmaking possible and palpable. It is perhaps her first real opportunity to take on a role so utterly grounded in reality. She gives a detailed and effortlessly natural performance, bringing Sandra to life in rich, multi-faceted color.
The simple yet startlingly poignant final scene sees Sandra, Linn, and Clément overlooking the city of Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur as Clément points out different locations – from this perspective, the young girl struggles to pinpoint familiar spots. As Sandra watches them silently, her thoughts seem to ring out as clearly as Clément and Linn’s sweet exchange. Life is a cycle of teaching and learning that goes from child to parent and back again. It’s a quiet, pensive conclusion to what is ultimately an elegant portrait of humanity that opens itself up to the existential questions we so often ignore but store deep within ourselves nonetheless.