Un beau matin
starring Léa Seydoux, Pascal Greggory, Melvil Poupaud, Nicole Garcia
written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
by Angelo Muredda "You can be for and against at the same time," a woman says of her capacity to vote for Emmanuel Macron while supporting the young activists who agitate against him early in Mia Hansen-Løve's One Fine Morning. That seemingly throwaway statement about holding contrary feelings and priorities in tension speaks to Hansen-Løve's ambivalent ethos in her latest and most affecting work so far. Translator Sandra (a sublimely sad-eyed Léa Seydoux) finds herself pulled in two directions at once over the course of about a year, between her ties to her ailing father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), a philosopher whose neurodegenerative disease now necessitates full-time care, and the promise of a new affair with the married Clément (Melville Poupaud), a cosmo-chemist from her past who she meets again in a chance encounter at their kids' school. Though it's largely par for the course for Hansen-Løve's cinema of minor-key, semi-autobiographical middle-class family chamber dramas, One Fine Morning feels like a refinement rather than a mere retracing of thematic and aesthetic steps, gelling into a moving, novelistic array of scenes from a life in motion, where old and new frequently collide.
Incidental as its narrative material of hospital visits, work appointments, and furtive encounters in bedrooms seems, One Fine Morning is rigorously structured, bordering on heavy-handed. Sandra's year unfolds through her comings and goings to and from her father's long-term care homes and her romantic trysts with Clément, with seasonal changes amidst the repetition signalled in part by the slant of the light and subtle shifts in wardrobe, and in part by the return on the soundtrack of a mournful Jan Johansson piece that Hansen-Løve cribs from Ingmar Bergman's The Touch, in a continued dialogue with the subject of her previous film, Bergman Island. In contrast to the languorous opening shot that locates Sandra far down a Paris street and watches as she ambles into the frame before panning to keep up with her, the pacing throughout is hurried. Hansen-Løve's hard cuts are merciless, frequently jumping from the start to the end of a sexual encounter and leaving us mid-scene, or abruptly trading one hospital's beige design language for the crumbling walls and pale green of another. As a consequence, the film sometimes feels breathless but deliberately so: it's as clipped and brusque as Sandra's transit commutes between the segments of her life.
Though they are given roughly equal attention by Hansen-Løve's montage, Sandra's encounters with her father are much more dynamically charged than her more static second-adolescence entanglement with Clément. If Poupaud's scientist in midlife crisis registers as a blandly handsome placeholder for Sandra's future, where she might return to the pleasures of the body after years spent in mourning for her previous partner, Greggory makes a dignified envoy for her past. Rakishly handsome in Éric Rohmer's Pauline at the Beach (his onscreen history ably filling in some blanks in characterization), he is gaunt and fearfully alert here, beautifully capturing a sharp mind contending with a new haziness that fundamentally alters his way of life. He and Seydoux are marvellous together in moments where Sandra anchors the intellectually airy and increasingly untethered Gregor to the ground of their surroundings while he challenges her--ever the philosophy professor who values "clarity and rigour," as Sandra says of him at one point--to explain how she knows for certain they are standing in his room.
At times, the film's intergenerational anxiety about the creeping march of illness and disability feels a bit tired--the stuff of a healthy middle-aged person's dread about the future, as in an interlude with an older wheelchair user who speaks to the importance of being visibly out in the world and refusing pity, or a cryptic tangent about Sandra's daughter affecting a limp, likely a psychosomatic response to her grandfather's cognitive decline. There are perhaps one too many instances where we see a care home resident drifting into Gregor's room instead of her own, an initially colourful detail that, in repetition, feels like an exclamation point for us to remark upon. This motif reads as both a genuine autobiographical note from Hansen-Løve's experience with her father's care homes, filed away for a future film, and an overdetermined harbinger of Gregor's future decline, which doesn't exactly need foretelling.
For the most part, though, Hansen-Løve's purposeful aesthetic touches pay off, particularly in a pair of formidable montages--one delicate and light, the other protracted and sombre--that encapsulate father and daughter at different stages of their lives. As Sandra explains to her daughter why giving away Gregor's books to his former students is a tribute to his presence, the personal library being the philosopher's equivalent of an artist's self-portrait, Hansen-Løve delicately cuts across a swath of his book spines, apparently from her own father's library, now living again on new shelves. Later, she evocatively pairs the audio of Gregor's impressionistic observations about his illness taking him out of the world he knows in an unpublished poem Sandra finds in one of his notebooks with images of her traversing the city, audio-visually compressing Sandra and Gregor's experiences even as they most diverge, the one lingering in banal rooms where time never seems to pass in senescence while the other engages in the bustle of the world in her thirties. The effect is of an accumulation of powerful moments that shine through the regular stuff of life.