One of the hardest things for a movie to do is to make it seem as though you're eavesdropping into someone else's life for two hours. By nature, good drama tends to rely on carefully-crafted dialogue and scenes that offer big, obvious stakes. Avoiding those things in favor of simple realism takes a particular touch. Director Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come) pulls this trick off nicely with her latest effort, One Fine Morning. It's not a picture that will necessarily blow you away, but it certainly offers a compelling portrait of a woman trying to sort through the issues that are plaguing her life.
Léa Seydoux stars as Sandra, single mother to eight-year-old daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) and caretaker to father Georg (Pascal Greggory), who is dealing with a neurodegenerative disorder that has caused both visual and mental impairment. On top of all that, she works a high-pressure job as an interpreter. Sandra probably doesn't need any other stressors to deal with. Nevertheless, she starts up a fling with an old friend named Clement (Melvil Poupaud). He's married and claims he wants to leave his wife, yet that never quite happens. The two talk about doing the right thing, without ever fully committing to ending their relationship until he's formally separated. Part of the reason why is that Sandra has been alone – and celibate – for so long that the chance to be close to someone is intoxicating. On Clement's end, he's so unhappy in his marriage that she represents a hopeful escape.
One Fine Morning looks at what happens as Sandra attempts to bring these disparate elements in her life into balance. The film consists of a series of observational moments as she struggles with putting her father in a nursing home, grows depressed over Clement's inability to leave his wife, and finds her focus at work impacted by the problems on her mind. There are no histrionic scenes or explosions of drama. Hansen-Løve is far more interested in the nuances of this character's life, from the way she tries to hold her feelings in so Linn doesn't pick up on them, to the manner in which she grapples with insecurity about her competence in romantic matters.
Accomplishing that requires an extremely skilled actress, so the film is lucky to have Léa Seydoux. She usually plays sultry characters in movies such as The French Dispatch, No Time to Die, and Blue Is the Warmest Colour. Here, she completely de-glams herself, sporting a short, boyish haircut and plain Jane clothing. The transformation from her typical image is stunning, allowing us to forget we're watching an established star and to simply see Sandra. Seydoux brings great vulnerability to the role, earning our compassion through a straightforward approach to conveying Sandra's turmoil.
The specific plot threads in One Fine Morning are not new. Lots of movies have dealt with single woman/married man affairs and adult children caring for infirm parents. Finding one semi-original angle to include would have strengthened the movie overall. Sensitive direction and a captivating performance from Seydoux are sufficient to draw you in, though. The story ends on a nice, quiet note that suggests not that Sandra has her whole life figured out, but that she's okay for now. It's an appropriate finale for a picture that strives for, and achieves, emotional honesty.
out of four
One Fine Morning is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.