It can often feel like spring, even though it is clearly a winter of discontent for Sandra (Lea Seydoux) in “One Fine Morning,” shuttling between visits to her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former professor of philosophy whose mental faculties are rapidly in decline after being diagnosed with neurodegenerative disorder, and the life she’s made for herself in Paris where she is largely content, happily the mother to a vibrant young daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) and passing the time with a job never short on excitement as a translator for international political summits and government affairs. There can be whiplash when her life feels so full yet she’s expecting to lose such a big part of it, wondering if she even should allow herself such happiness when the feeling of suffering resides so closely by and this collision of impulses is exacerbated even further after an encounter with Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an old friend back in the city with his own young child after his work as an astrophysicist takes him across the universe for long stretches of time.
Timing has always been a curiosity to Mia Hansen-Løve, who made a signature early on in her career out of transitioning out of scenes with a fade so as to capture the sense that no moment ends with a period but an ellipsis and like sand in an hourglass, it slips away on its own volition. When the writer/director makes no secret of drawing on what’s going on in her own life at any given time and is both so precise and generous with her insights, the films themselves have become a form of autobiography of greater and greater weight, and that there is only one such fade transition in “One Fine Morning,” deployed with the same skill and intention as Spike Lee will drop in a double dolly shot to excite those who have been following along while being true to her characters’ emotional experience, is the mark of someone at the height of her powers, with “One Fine Morning” standing tall as her most monumental film to date.
Hansen-Løve can’t help but make this sophisticated emotional powerhouse look effortless as she dives into the thorny family dynamics of the Kienzlers, not only between Georg and Sandra, but her mother and his first wife Françoise (Nicole Garcia) and their other daughter Irina (Ema Zampa), who mostly sits on the sidelines. He has a new partner that his old one and her daughters are respectful of, but the greater burden of moving Georg into an assisted living facility and finding a good home for such items as his cherished book collection, a reminder of the intellectual titan he once was, largely falls onto Sandra, who would have enough to worry about as she starts the process of letting go, but complicates her own life even further as she’s drawn into a torrid romance with Clément, who claims to be estranged from his wife but nonetheless comes with strings attached. Still, rather than look exclusively towards the stress these relationships could have on Sandra, Hansen-Løve is intrigued by how they start to take the edge off one another, both when the situations themselves exist physically separate from each other and confronting the most intimidating elements of either seems slightly less scary for Sandra as she builds her resolve to do what’s best for herself after giving so much of herself over to others in the past.
When the statuesque Seydoux has long been cast for project immutable strength, the role of Sandra goes against type, but allows the actress to show she’s one of the best working today as despair will sneak up on the grieving daughter, as well as joy when her new romance starts to bloom, and the emotions register so fluidly and unexpectedly across her face. Hansen-Løve gives such radiant attention to everyone in the ensemble, whose full lives you know you’re only catching a part of as they drift in and out of Sandra’s, and while the film may concern losing a loved one, it is just a part of a grander scheme that the totality of is fully felt even as it passes by like a cool breeze. As much as “One Fine Morning” captures life, it gives life too.
“One Fine Morning” will screen at the New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on October 8th at 6:15 pm and October 9th at noon.