Mia Hansen-Løve has a way of making even the most introspective, quiet stories feel grandiose. Take, for example, last year’s Bergman Island, in which a pair of writers going on a working vacation became an expansive look at storytelling, great directors, and gender roles—all in a film that one of the best from 2021. Hansen-Løve’s latest, One Fine Morning, is significantly smaller than even her previous film, yet the powerful emotions and heartbreak make One Fine Morning just as awe-inspiring and striking.
One Fine Morning stars Léa Seydoux as Sandra, an interpreter living in France with her daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins). When Sandra isn’t working, her time is mostly split between the two men in her life. After several years of no love life to speak of since the death of her husband, Sandra strikes up an affair with her husband’s old friend Clément (Melvil Poupaud). Clément, however, is married and has a family of his own, making this budding relationship primarily comprised of a few stolen hours here and there. The other man in Sandra’s life is her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy teacher who is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease that requires full-time care. Sandra, her mother, and her sisters have to move Georg out of his apartment and into a care facility that they can afford and that is decent enough for their father’s well-being.
In her job as a translator and in these relationships, Sandra is a middle man of sorts. In her affair, she’s probably the person with the least amount of power, as her and Clément’s relationship is largely dependent on Clément’s marriage, while with her father, she’s just doing the best she can in a situation that is entirely out of her hands. She knows she could call things off with Clément, but then she’d lose one of her primary sources of happiness. She could quit visiting her father, who increasingly forgets who she is, but she still wants to be there for this man she loves.
In many ways, Hansen-Løve’s screenplay is about the ways we give ourselves over to love—regardless of how it hurts us. When Sandra finds her father’s manuscript, written right after his diagnosis, Georg states that he wants to write about what will destroy him. Similarly, Hansen-Løve is doing the same thing, as she explores the difficulties of love in all its forms. Love can be self-destructive, intoxicating, and downright exquisite, and Hansen-Løve never shies away from that truth.
Hansen-Løve does this in a film that could come off as overwhelmingly, well, French, for lack of a better descriptor. One Fine Morning has a breezy air to it, especially when focused on Sandra and Clément’s relationship that undercuts the deep sorrow coming from the story of Georg and his degradation. It’s painful watching Sandra do everything she can for her father, taking care of this man who forgets who she is, and trying to set up her own boundaries in terms of how much she can do for him. One Fine Morning ultimately becomes about not just how all-encompassing love can become, but also an exploration of the barriers that must be put up as a form of self-preservation.
And yet, One Fine Morning is also about embracing the things that are important to us while we can, enjoying the things that make life truly beautiful. In one of One Fine Morning’s most lovely scenes, Sandra and her family have a raucous Christmas celebration, as they present for the kid’s sake that Santa Claus is coming while they hide in a bedroom. It’s hilarious and ridiculous, but also feels like one of those fantastic moments that will stay with Sandra until her memories also start to fade away.
Equally beautiful is One Fine Morning’s take on legacy, and the impact we have on those around us. While Georg might have never had the opportunity to write his own memoir, everyone who knows him is aware of his passion for his collection of books. As Georg is moved into another home, Sandra and her family must figure out what to do with this extensive library. While the family keeps some, many are given to former students who remember their teacher with fondness. It’s a subtle aspect of One Fine Morning, but Hansen-Løve shows that what we love still impacts the ones we love even after we’ve gone. Our passions and our appreciations live on through others, even if it’s just with something as simple as a book handed down to the next generation.
Seydoux brings both parts of this story together with grace and charm, and an honesty that makes this one of her best performances so far. Hansen-Løve’s story is deceptively light, yet packs an emotional wallop as it explores the impact that love—and our separation from such love—can have on a person.