It’s easy to appreciate Léa Seydoux for her glamorous roles, especially in the James Bond franchise, but it’s the little French dramas like One Fine Morning that show how good of an actress she truly is. In this quiet but busy film from Mia Hansen-Løve, she plays widowed single mother Sandra. She is living one of those lives that looks commonplace, maybe even dull, to those on the outside. In reality, Sandra is constantly on the move, shuffling between her daughter Linn’s (Camille Leban Martins)activities, the needs of her ailing father Georg (Pascal Greggory), and the emotional needs she has too long neglected.
Returning to her native Paris, Hansen-Løve has yet again done something she is better at than nearly any filmmaker working today. Hansen-Løve has the incredible knack for making the simplest stories feel larger than life. With her short, boyish haircut and backpack strapped on tight, Sandra could be anyone navigating the difficult contours of life in the city. When not busy at work as an interpreter, we see Sandra stuck between the demands of two men who can’t fully meet her emotional needs. Years after her husband’s death, and with little to no romantic entanglements since, Sandra has a chance encounter with an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud). The sparks are instant, and before long the two are engaged in a sexual relationship. However, since he’s married with kids, these interactions are brief, potent encounters that leave Sandra yearning for more whenever he’s gone.
On the other end of the spectrum is Sandra’s father, Georg, a brilliant philosopher devastated by the terrible neurodegenerative disorder, Benson’s Syndrome. A particularly nasty disease, it not only takes away a person’s mental faculties, similar to dementia, but also their eyesight. He’s such a kindly, helpless old man that it’s especially painful when he accidentally hurts her. As his memory slips, these occurrances become unavoidable, forcing Sandra to reexamine her relationship to the man she once knew who is now slowly forgetting who she is.
One Fine Morning, if it were made here in America, probably would’ve had a heroine with some sort of gimmick, or at least more of an edge. Certainly, there would be more theatricality to the drama in her life. But Hansen-Løve is too good for that. She knows the real power in a story like this is in how much of ourselves we can see in its characters. Sandra goes through the motions of things that many of us will someday have to face, such as exploring care facilities to take care of our parents, picking her daughter up from football practice, hanging out at the garden with her lover. These moments are packed with poignancy because of the hardships we know she is quietly enduring.
Seydoux is so good that she makes every performance look easy. It’s a talent that is well-suited to this role, as Sandra keeps her feelings to herself extraordinarily well. She resolutely endures it when things with her father get tough, or when her lover is gone and she misses him dearly. One Fine Morning is carried by the grace and elegance that Seydoux brings and that Hansen-Løve can showcase with an auteur’s skillful guidance.
One Fine Morning is open in theaters now.