Throughout her career, Mia Hansen-Løve has returned to a familiar milieu — the daily lives of women, drawing out a poignant beauty and humanist sense of drama in the quotidian rhythms of mothers as they go about their work, as well as their caretaking of children, parents and their own inner worlds.
There’s something fascinating, and indeed feminist, about simply watching these women, played by some of Europe’s most talented actresses (Isabelle Huppert in “Things to Come,” Vicky Krieps in “Bergman Island”), simply exist in the world, maintaining the delicate balance of day-to-day harmony despite the larger ups and downs that threaten to upend everything.
In “One Fine Morning,” Hansen-Løve’s latest, the woman in question is Sandra, played by Léa Seydoux, hair cropped into a pixie cut, clad in the jeans, sweatshirt and backpack befitting a young widowed mother caring for her daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins), on her own in Paris. In addition to being a single mom, and her work as a translator, Sandra cares for her father, Georg (Pascal Greggory, “Non-Fiction”), a former philosophy professor who has been suffering from Benson’s syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease related to Alzheimer’s, which has affected his eyesight and cognitive abilities.
The saying “it takes a village” most often applies to the upbringing of babies and young children, but in “One Fine Morning,” it applies to Georg at the end of his life, and the army of women who help to usher him through it, including Sandra and her sister, ex-wife Françoise (Nicole Garcia, “Mon Oncle d’Amerique”), and companion Leila, not to mention the many nurses at the various nursing homes where his family attempts to find him an appropriate place for full-time care.
With “One Fine Morning,” Hansen-Løve turns her attention, and ours, toward the challenges, both tiny and immense, of loving someone through a decline such as this — one that’s not a death, just yet, but rather a disabling event, an experience that is as perplexing for Georg as it is for his family and former students. The grace that Hansen-Løve extends toward this process is astonishing for the way that she simply regards it as an inevitable fact of life, a transition that is as rewarding as it is emotionally taxing.
The director also subtly layers in references to this process in the world around Sandra, especially in a scene where she translates for American World War II vets at a D-Day memorial event, with some of the veterans disabled from the injuries they sustained decades prior on that horrific day.
Sandra finds an escape from this reality in a newly rekindled friendship with Clément (Melvil Poupaud, also at Cannes with “Brother and Sister”), an old friend of her late husband whom she runs into after school at the park with his son Jérémie. Clément is married, though he claims his 10-year marriage has grown cold, and soon, Sandra and Clément are stealing kisses in the lab where he works as a cosmo-chemist. Sandra, rusty in the ways of love since her husband’s death, blossoms under Clément’s seduction (reflected beautifully in the pops of red that creep into her wardrobe).
The casual mistress is a concept that’s oh-so-French, even reflected in the way that Georg’s ex-wife of 20 years and his current companion find themselves on the same team for his care. But Hansen-Løve wants to peek under the hood of this perhaps overwrought stereotype. As Clément waffles back and forth between Sandra and his wife, Valérie, we follow Sandra’s emotional state as “the other woman” as she embarks on her first affair after her husband’s death, falling deeply for this man while trying to manage her own expectations and those of her young daughter, observing these comings and goings. Hansen-Løve, who explored the side of the wife who discovers her husband has been cheating in “Things To Come,” humanizes Sandra’s experience of re-discovering love under complicated circumstances.
Seydoux delivers a remarkable performance as Sandra navigates the emotional roller-coaster of her life, embodying Sandra’s efforts to manage her feelings for the sake of others. It seems effortless the way emotions arrive on Seydoux’s face and body, especially the responses that take Sandra by surprise, like when she suddenly tears up during a song at the nursing home. She receives a sweet text from Clément on the bus home from her father’s care facility, and the camera captures her shifting expression: smiling hopefully, suppressing it, tearing up, finally smiling and letting her full emotion make its way to her face as she relaxes into love.
Hansen-Løve’s visual style is unobtrusive yet lovely, capturing the beauty of Paris and the people in it. Her true filmmaking craft is to be found in the script and edit, in the way she structures and layers her films — the repetition of scenes, moments, and interactions; the way she cuts between the complex intertwining events of Sandra’s life, constantly reminding us of her responsibility to and dedicated care for her father; her moments with Clément either a sweet escape or more stinging disappointment. Like a weaver on a loom, Hansen-Løve loops these moments together, threading small moments of thought-provoking social commentary throughout, revealing the larger picture only once the process is done, offering a snapshot of a moment in time, a profound and captivating portrait of love, lost, found, and ever-remaining.
“One Fine Morning” premieres at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.