After she ascended to the Competition last year with Bergman Island, it’s bittersweet to see Mia Hansen-Løve back in the ranks of Directors’ Fortnight. On the one hand, it’s a testament to her versatility that she can switch back and forth so adeptly, but at the same time, it’s a little galling to see women’s stories apparently banished from the Official Selection when so many bromances make the cut every year. That’s not to say that One Fine Morning has anything radical to offer — the story of a single mother falling in love with her late husband’s (married) friend, it won’t win any prizes for advancing the feminist cause — but it does offer a very thoughtful character sketch, composed around what might be a career-best role for underused Bond star Léa Seydoux.
Seydoux plays Sandra, a supremely stylish Paris mother who lives alone with her young daughter. Sandra works as a translator, a peculiar but specific little detail that sees her out working with war veterans on a visit to Normandy one minute then stuck in a booth at a boring trade conference the next. Sandra handles it all professionally, but her focus is on her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a much-loved college professor now afflicted by Benson syndrome, a form of Alzheimer’s that causes blindness and delusions. Georg needs to be in full-time care, so Sandra reluctantly yields to his ex-wife’s wishes and starts packing up his vast collection of rarefied records and books.
It’s at this moment that Sandra reconnects with Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an old friend of her late husband who, this being a Mia Hansen-Løve film, is a cosmochemist. The spark is instant, even though the tousle-haired Clément’s wardrobe is clearly not in the same league as Sandra’s, and sex follows refreshingly quickly, without too much fuss, even though Sandra knows the affair is starting out on borrowed time. All the while, her father’s health is failing him, the medical industry is failing him — each care home seems to be worse than the last—and only Sandra seems to care about his artistic legacy.
It’s a slight, warm film that doesn’t stray far beyond the bounds of what you might expect but does make an interesting companion piece with Hansen-Løve’s 2016 Berlin entry Things to Come, which starred Isabelle Huppert as a middle-aged woman suddenly freed by her unexpected divorce and the passing of her mother. If Things to Come is a film about the future from an older woman’s perspective, One Fine Morning is the opposite: a younger woman seeing her past flashing before her eyes, wondering how, and if, it will ever get better. Poupaud is likable as the raffish Clément, and their chemistry together is powerful, but Seydoux is the standout here; there are many elements of Sandra that other actresses might manage easily — sexy, homely, vulnerable, practical, fragile, tough — but few could do them all in the service of the same role.
Similarly there are some surprisingly riotous moments in One Fine Morning that come close to the kind of slapstick you might find in a Julie Delpy movie, especially the more family-focused ones. There’s a very funny Christmas scene, where Sandra’s in-laws act out Santa’s arrival to their children’s wild delight. But, weirdly, although Hansen-Løve’s films are not shy of pretention, they’re rarely self-indulgent, and there’s always a sense of discipline that keeps everything on track. Whether she returns to the competition or not, we know by now that Hansen-Løve will do very well without it. The same, however, cannot be said of the competition, which sorely needs distinctive voices like hers.