That Mia Hansen-Løve survives as a filmmaker is a testament to her sheer, sucker punching, undeniable mastery. Can you name her films off the top of your head? Probably not, because she hasn’t received the same revered status as others with similar lineups of acclaimed films and high profile festival premieres. She’s self-aware (or self-conscious) enough to have made a film about it, 2021’s Bergman Island, but she’s not about to let it change her. One Fine Morning is as singular and difficult a nut to crack as any of her films, and once again its rewards are astonishing.

What makes Hansen-Løve’s films so obstinately averse to arthouse cinema adoration is precisely what makes them so difficult to label as obstinate. They are low-key to a fault. They resist melodrama. They avoid grand statements. They focus on the subtlest emotions, refuse to blow them out of proportion, and sit with them for long periods of time.

There’s no way to capture the effect in a plot synopsis. One Fine Morning sounds like something with a roiling heart: a woman cares for her ailing father, who has a neurodegenerative disorder, while starting an affair with an old friend. There’s heartache, high drama, and a chaotic life in that description, and yet One Fine Morning barely makes a peep. It’s not that the woman doesn’t feel what’s going on. She just doesn’t feel it in the way you might expect.

Léa Seydoux leads the action in front of the camera, her self-assuredness getting us through situations that would leave many actors on their back heels. How to play a woman who waltzes onscreen with everything so balanced? She cycles through translating gigs during the day, stops by her father’s to make sure he has a warm meal, picks up her daughter from school, and spends cheery afternoons in the park. When she says that her love life is behind her, you’re prone to believe it. She seems content. But movies are movies, and change must occur.

When her father slips past being able to live at home, she faces the transition without blinking. When she instigates (instigates!) the affair, the man slides almost perfunctorily into her life. If you blink, you may miss how calamitous these events these are.

That’s because obvious emotions aren’t what captive Hansen-Løve. Anyone could make this film a tearful, scream-filled flurry of transition from child to caregiver, friend to lover. What Hansen-Løve captures instead is how quiet these moments can be.

Seydoux’s Sandra knows she’s not the primary player in any of these stories. She’s not losing her mind like her father. She doesn’t have a wife to avoid hurting like her partner. And she certainly doesn’t need to be cared for like her daughter. Violent things are happening to her, but they pale in comparison to what’s happening to those she cares about.

We’ve all been there, right? Finding ourselves to be of less consequence than those around us? Only with immense effort can we handle this gracefully, as Sandra does, deferring and acquiescing to the situations around us. We still get our emotions, but we never let them override our understanding of others.

Who makes a movie about not being the center of attention? Who makes a movie about not being the center of attention and being okay with it? Mia Hansen-Løve, that’s who, and she’ll win few awards and gain few ardent fans for doing it. 

What this does is allow her to make a film unlike any other, to key in on emotional beats and experiences others dare not slow down enough to observe. When Sandra’s partner decides to take a break from the affair, she remarks with tears in her eyes that their relationship was never a fling to her. When her mother says she’s better off forgetting her time with her ex-husband, the time in which she gave birth and raised Sandra, she shoots a pained look. Neither expression is intended to harm. One can be self-possessed enough to hold an emotion without wielding it. Others can be gracious enough to let you have it without personalizing it. 

And there the movie sits for its two hours, with mature adults in difficult situations, navigating without histrionics. Comfort comes from the way life rolls on, not bringing resolutions but often granting respites, sometimes in the simple form of one fine morning. And that’s enough.

Release: available now in theaters
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writers: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Pascal Greggory, Melvil Poupaud, Nicole Garcia

Author: Emily Wheeler

Member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. Movie omnivore.

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