“One Fine Morning” review: a sweet and moving showcase by Léa Seydoux

“One Fine Morning” sounds like an innocuous title for an adult relationship drama — destined, perhaps, to be confused on streaming menus with the George Clooney-Michelle Pfeiffer romantic comedy “One Fine Day” — and in a sense, the French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s soft, melancholic cinema is its own kind of visual comfort. But as with many facets of his cinema, there’s a smarter, sadder, more literary backlash to the sunny simplicity of the title. “Un beau matin” in French, it is taken from a haunting poem by the poetic realist Jacques Prévert, which describes in simple images the conflict of facing absence in your life, while pretending that there is literally no nothing there.

Suffice it to say, then, that Hansen-Løve’s latest is no romantic comedy, except in the interludes when it is. Without prejudice to its quiet, jerky pace, “One Fine Morning” deals with several things at once, the way every day of the day always is: distinct personal crises alternately surging and receding over the course of a year. , under equal conditions. prominence in the script’s loose one-day-at-a-time structure. Following 2018’s quasi-witty self-help story “Maya” and last year’s cinephile within-a-movie “Bergman Island” — both shot in English, both more stuffy and contrived than his best work — the new film returns the filmmaker to his (bittersweet) sweet spot, rooting him not just in France but in fine-grained domestic reality.

It’s also a welcome change of pace for the ubiquitous Léa Seydoux, recently seen on screen as almost anything (Bond girl, body horror muse, glamazonic national symbol) but an ordinary woman, and projecting a warm sense human wear and tear that we see too rarely from her. Deglammed as far as deglamming star can be – with minimal makeup, a short, practical hairstyle and an often recycled wardrobe of flowing floral dresses, she’s casual chic in the way of someone you might likely to know – Seydoux plays Sandra, a bright, independent, longtime single mother with a career as a freelance translator who roughly pays the rent for the tiny apartment she shares in Paris with her eight-year-old daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins).

We meet her on the way to another cozy Parisian shoebox, that of her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy professor who has almost completely lost his sight – a consequence of the neurodegenerative disease Benson syndrome, which seizes little by little from his mind. and memory too. No longer able to live independently and unable to live with his partner due to his own health problems, he and his family are thus plunged into the administrative nightmare of the national nursing home system, barely able to secure a room for him. to him amidst a logistical tangle of waiting lists and exorbitant fees.

With Sandra even thinner than usual, anxiously worrying about every aspect of her father’s situation – even the fate of his vast book collection is a touchy subject – it’s a tough time for a complicated new relationship. to introduce oneself. Life being what it is, that’s exactly what happens. A chance encounter with an old acquaintance, the charming cosmochemist Clément (Melvil Poupaud) leads to a rekindled friendship, and soon more than that – despite being married with a young son and in no rush to break up his family. Despite repeated efforts to end the impractical affair, the two cannot quite leave each other. For Sandra, who is not only out of the dating scene but has been totally single for several years, her reawakened need for intimacy won’t just be extinguished again.

By dramatizing these two chaotic factors in Sandra’s life, Hansen-Løve strives to avoid orderly, bloated arcs and grand narrative collisions. Instead, “One Fine Morning” gains subtle power through repetition, as the characters submit themselves over and over to the same mundane ordeals hoping for different results: As the increasingly bewildered Georg is dragged from 1 installation unsuited to another, losing its bearings a little more each time, Sandra and Clément repeatedly try to forge a new romance without disrupting the status quo. In either case, the concept of home – not just a place to live, but the companions and cares that anchor life itself – is seen as precious and elusive.

Hansen-Løve’s cinema, meanwhile, feels as comfortably lived here as a second-hand cardigan, from the soft ecru textures of Denis Lenoir’s 35mm lens to Marion Monnier’s relaxed and sociable editing to the the director’s usual musical patchwork of favorites spanning Schubert, Dinah Washington and Bill Fay’s plaintive folk ballad. Few would accuse the director of pushing herself in “One Fine Morning,” but there’s a lot to be said for cinema feeling at home — at home, even — with itself.

In one of the many tongue-in-cheek scenes in the mother-daughter fight movie, Sandra takes Linn to the movies, sitting puzzled by a children’s fantasy blockbuster that a breathless Linn then declares “incredible.” To her dismay, her mother is less enthusiastic: “The story was good, sighs Sandra, but the images and sound were very aggressive. ‘One Fine Morning’, like much of Hansen-Løve’s work, is immune to such accusations, but there can also be something sharp about its sweetness: it knows the fragility of calm, which is sometimes the sound of inner peace, and sometimes, according to this poem by Prévert, the echo of the bustle of an empty space.