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Léa Seydoux shines in Mia Hansen-Løve’s sumptuous, contemplative ‘One Fine Morning’

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FEBRUARY 03, 2023

Grade: 3.5/5.0

Amid an amorous tryst early in “One Fine Morning,” the married Clément (Melvil Poupaud) breathlessly tells Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux), “I didn’t have the right,” referring to his romantic inaction during their years-long friendship.

“And now you do?” Sandra quips.

“I seized it. Life is short.” Clément says in response. 

Ostensibly mundane and minor opposite a plot centering on Sandra’s father, Georg (Pascal Greggory) — who is suffering from Benson’s syndrome — the short scene is emblematic of the seemingly scattered yet in fact streamlined aims of “One Fine Morning.” Mia Hansen-Løve’s portrait of feminine quotidian malaise, in being set against a backdrop of Georg’s developing Alzheimer’s, tinges Sandra’s arc with expressive heft. Georg’s unsayable regret, mental diminution and creeping mortality give way to fears that linger in the domesticity of Sandra’s life — each unassuming moment tinged with a quiet vigor and modest melancholy.

“One Fine Morning” centers on Sandra, a 30-something-year-old translator living in Paris who must negotiate her recurrent longing and loneliness with the obligations she has to her ailing father and young daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins). As a result of his disease, Georg, a former philosophy professor, is not only gradually losing his sight but also (ironically) his cognition, becoming less and less lucid. He cannot recognize his favorite Schubert sonata, nor can he see his own daughter, mistaking her pixie-cut for flowing locks. As he appears less and less recognizable, Sandra must carry the weight of traversing Paris to find a home for him to settle in, where the responsibility of care won’t fall solely on her — all while a wrenching chasm between her and her father deepens. 

Enduring grief, too, is a specter in Sandra’s life, having lost her husband a few years prior. As she navigates this motley of anxieties, Sandra encounters Clément, an old friend of hers and a cosmo-chemist. The two embark on a love affair, even as Clément has a wife and young son of his own. Their recurring rendezvous encompass swirling, palpably sensual trysts and mundane yet amusing trips to a local museum. In any other film, their scenes would play as a series of interludes that formulate a familiar yet achingly warm romantic comedy, alongside an excessively sentimental familiar tale of illness and death.

But “One Fine Morning” is distinct for its attunement to a dual, elliptical narrative — and as such, for its commitment to finding poetry and complexity within understated realism. Hansen-Løve is uninterested in neat, linear arcs or uncomplicated characters, preferring to etch her characters through what amounts to episodic, cyclical narratives; Clément knocks on Sandra’s door every few weeks or months, each time a bit more unsure of himself, while bits and pieces of Georg escape everytime Sandra greets him, just as bits and pieces of her reveal themselves. 

Sandra’s job as a translator represents the multiplicity of duties she holds: in her occupation, as a mother, as a daughter and to herself. She’s somehow always an intermediary, rarely the subject in her own life — cornered between the ebb and flow of activity and passivity. But this perhaps universal, immense private and public load that falls on women within her generation is graced with specificity through Hansen-Løve’s tender directorial lens — with its embrace of the day-to-day and rejection of the saccharine — and Seydoux’s earthy, spirited portrayal. 

“How could this body stay asleep for so long?” Clément whispers to Sandra at one point, referring to her years of apparent celibacy following her husband’s death, just as Sandra’s father faces an eternal sleep. The feature is strewn with an ample amount of such lines, which appear deceptively simple but are in fact elaborately layered. 

Cinematographer Denis Lenoir’s images cement this texture, bringing to mind the softness and familiarity of a blanket, while also evoking their characteristic elaborate, baroque threads. “One Fine Morning” endures on in much the same way: tactile in its warmth, but full of sublime substance.

Contact Hafsah Abbasi at 


FEBRUARY 03, 2023