By now, it's no secret that French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve leans into autobiographical storytelling with an honesty that is refreshing and increasingly rare in the world of cinema. From films like The Father of My Children to her latest effort One Fine Morning, Hansen-Løve tells stories that are both deeply personal and yet also remarkably universal. One Fine Morning is a fictionalized drama that draws from Hansen-Løve's experience losing her father to a neurogenerate disease. She completed the script before his death in the early days of the pandemic. Being aware of this fact adds a layer of quiet poignancy to a story that feels more natural and more honest than any film I've seen in quite some time.
Truthfully, I loved every moment of One Fine Morning.
Léa Seydoux stars as Sandra, a translator by profession who is also a widowed parent of Linn (Camille Leban Martins). She is struggling to provide care for her increasingly debilitated father (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy professor now severely impacted by Benson's Disease and destined to spend his remaining life in care facilities. Much of One Fine Morning finds Sandra joined by family as they move him from facility to facility in an effort to provide him the quality care that he can barely recognize. Simultaneously, a chance encounter with a friend of her late husband, Clément (Melvil Poupaud), leads to the first signs of passion in her life in the five years since her husband's death.
There are, of course, some complications along the way.
Winner of the Label Europa Cinemas at last year's Cannes Film Festival, this Sony Pictures Classics release was an early darling for an Oscar nom in International Feature before France opted for the more market-friendly Saint Omer, which ultimately ended up not snagging a nomination. It's a shame, and a misjudgment in my estimation, but not particularly surprising given that Hansen-Løve has never been a particularly showy filmmaker and favors naturalism with a ferocity that makes my heart smile.
Hansen-Løve directs One Fine Morning with a disciplined simplicity that defiantly avoids trickery or histrionics. While One Fine Morning is a fictionalized tale with autobiographical elements, it's also a universal story that will look and feel familiar to many. Everything that unfolds here does so quietly even when matters of great matter are at stake. It's refreshing how much Hansen-Løve stays devoted to life's smaller moments that often add up to our biggest memories. Lensing by frequent Hansen-Løve collaborator Denis Lenoir is similarly unobtrusive and allows the narrative room to breathe and unfold. While I often long for the camera to linger into the silences, Lenoir's approach here is practically just the opposite in telling the story with visual precision and without an ounce of excess. It's not what I usually love, but as it happens here it's absolutely perfect.
Léa Seydoux has long been a gifted, perhaps under-appreciated, actress and One Fine Morning gives her a chance to show another side of her talent. She's remarkable here as a young woman living life as best she knows how. She's often, even usually, living in the moment even as each moment promises a vastly different experience. We've seldom seen womanhood portrayed with such vibrancy, respect, and dignity as we do here as Seydoux weaves a tapestry of reliability, vulnerability, aching sweetness, and believable tenderness. This has to be one of Seydoux's finest performances, a full-bodied performance where every fiber of her being shows a world of truths. We can't help but feel another world beneath what she shows us, or perhaps she only shows us glimpses on her face with words unspoke. There were moments in One Fine Morning when I felt the tears welling up only to feel as if I was joined by Seydoux's Sandra herself. From the uncertainty of caring for her father with a complexity of emotions to being in a relationship with Clément, Sandra embodies full womanhood that is shattering in its truthfulness and lack of histrionics.
However, this is precisely the kind of character that Hansen-Løve excels at writing. Hansen-Løve infuses One Fine Morning with intelligence and warmth and the kind of love we seldom see coming out of the movie industry anymore. Scenes between Seydoux and the always fine Melvil Poupaud delight not because they are over-stylized scenes of sexuality but because there's genuine passion, delight, and intimacy between Sandra and Clément and it's brought so beautifully to life that it practically gives me chills.
One Fine Morning is one of the finest films released in 2023 with Hansen-Løve continuing to amaze and an ensemble cast seemingly enchanted by the chance to tell such a life-giving, alive, and wonderfully honest story.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic