Gemma Creagh says bonjour to bittersweet French romance One Fine Morning.
One Fine Morning (Un Beau Matin) was penned and directed by the insightful and somewhat prolific director Mia Hansen-Løve, and is certainly the most French film you’ll see this year. Extramarital affairs. Breakups. The changing seasons of Paris. Philosophy. Long walks by the Seine. Grief. More affairs. You’ll be looking up cheap flights to Beauvais before the credits stop rolling.
Young widow Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux) lives a somewhat lonely existence. When she’s not caring for her daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins), she’s working as a translator or visiting her ailing father. A former renowned academic in Philosophy, Georg (Pascal Greggory) is suffering from a debilitating and degenerative brain disease, and Sandra is struggling under the weight of the responsibility of his care. Her one reprieve is an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud), who’s just moved back to Paris. This married man and father admits to having “grown apart” from his wife as he walks her home.
When Sandra visits him at his job studying meteors as a Cosmochemist, the sparks between them fly. Sandra and Clément begin a passionate and all-consuming affair. Sandra is quick to lose herself in the sensuality of the relationship, her androgynous clothing becoming fitted, with red dresses and florals. Yet this under-wraps honeymoon period is short lived, and things get all-the-more complicated as Georg’s condition deteriorates. Sandra and her family are unable to find him the care that he needs. Sandra must dismantle her fathers life, throwing away his books, his work; she struggles to process her loss. Meanwhile, her turbulent relationship with Clément falters as he pulls away, afraid of hurting his family. This teamed with the high pressure nature of her work, and with no beds available for her father in a suitable facility, Sandra can barely keep her head above water.
There’s no surprise that One Fine Morning won the Europa Cinemas Label Award for Best European Film in Cannes. Both the writing and pacing is slow, strong, and reminiscent of an older vintage of film – a throwback similar in scope to Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. Much of the action plays out quite naturally in wider shorts, the ambient sound of the city filtering in through the backdrop and creating a natural, somewhat observational feel to the aesthetic captured by DOP Denis Lenoir.
The storytelling is well observed albeit less structured and heightened then we’re used to in modern day screenwriting. This snapshot of loss intertwined with lust is deftly presented, and beautifully explored on the screen. However – and maybe this is the unconscious Catholic shame in me talking – I found it hard to get on board with the intimacy, let alone the chemistry. Although delivering deeply authentic emotional performances independently, Seydoux and Poupaud didn’t gel enough to sell the pairing. In fact, Clément as a character, older, awkward, somewhat uncharismatic, and with his indecisive weasley nature – just gave me a massive case of the ick. Something that made the groping and slurping between the pair almost awkward to watch.
Overall, the film still delivers. Seydoux’s Sandra, a passive character, relatably overwhelmed and lost within the chaos of her life, is both exquisitely written and performed. With her latest cinematic offering, Hansen-Løve has constructed something beautiful and bittersweet.
One Fine Morning is in cinemas from 14th April 2023