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One Fine Morning: A Sensitive Study in Love

Photo: Carole Bethuel / Les Films Pelléas / Sony Pictures Classics.

I recently began watching Eric Rohmer films and as I was watching The Green Ray, Mia Hansen-Løve was one of the filmmakers I was most reminded of. Clearly Rohmer was a big influence on a lot of contemporary French filmmakers and his approach to drama is felt in Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning, a film that endeavors to capture relationships at their most ephemeral and elusive. To describe the bonds between these characters as fragile would suggest they could be ended abruptly and decisively. Rather, they condense and evaporate, always incompletely, as its heroine struggles to reconcile her feelings to her situation and feels the burden we all share of relying on others for our own happiness.

Sandra (a wonderfully real performance by the ever-articulate Léa Seydoux) lost her significant other some years ago and has raised her daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) alone ever since. However, her comfortable, mundane routine of work, parenting, and assisting her elderly father (Pascal Greggory in a heartbreaking performance) is disrupted when she encounters her old friend Clement (Melvil Poupaud). He always carried a torch for her and now she’s unattached the two reaffirm their acquaintanceship. However, Clement is now married himself and despite their feelings, things are going to get painful before they can be together (if that’s even what either of them will eventually want).

 Melvil Poupaud and Léa Seydoux in “One Fine Morning.”
Léa Seydoux as Sandra and Melvil Poupaud as Clément in One Fine Morning. Photo: Carole Bethuel / Les Films Pelléas / Sony Pictures Classics.

Sandra’s complex relationship with Clement plays out in parallel to her fading relationship with her professor father Georg, whose degenerative condition has outstripped Sandra’s modest ability to care for him. Through these parallel stories, Sandra bears witness to and undergoes the indignity of loneliness, of dependence, and of living and loving in the constant shadow of death. She wrestles with her guilt at slowly abandoning her father to his fate, but knows she cannot provide the care and love he needs and the more time they spend together the more she loses her image of him as the sharp intellectual mind that did so much to mold hers. Likewise, she loves Clement, but is all too aware of the pain that awaits down that road. She has little agency in her story, she loves her dad and she loves Clement, but through no fault of her own, she’s losing her grip on them both.

We might hate Clement for toying with her affections so much and making the selfish choices, getting involved with two women in the first place is a selfish choice, but extricating oneself from a ten year relationship is difficult and his offscreen drama casts a long shadow over Sandra’s onscreen one. Her love makes a fool of her as she anxiously awaits news that their life together can resume, often receiving only reminders—via her father’s fading mind—that her window of opportunity to build that life is ceaselessly drawing closed. Their early, awkward moments of budding romantic chemistry give us a window into the adolescent fire of love they’re rediscovering with each other, it’s one of the most intelligent and credible depictions of sexual tension I can recall.

We might not care too strongly for her characters, but Hansen-Løve does an exceptional job of making us associate with them, our own emotions, and our memories. She maintains a loose thematic and narrative focus, telling the story in a wistful, slice of life fashion that draws in threads from across Sandra’s personal, romantic, familial and professional lives, many of which it leaves agonizingly unresolved. One Fine Morning is a film about love and about death, and yet not so assiduous and rigid as to be purely about anything. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Hansen-Love had no real ending in mind or if the finished film was at all as she first envisaged it. The film ends not because it has reached its climax or an appropriate moment of closure and catharsis, but because the time has come to leave our characters to live their fictional lives and each weigh our faith in them and in the strength of the bonds between them.

It’s a sad, tender and vulnerable film and I will continue to wrestle with whether I think it’s an optimistic one. It struggles with the idea that as much as we might hope to be all things to the ones we love, they have emotional needs we can never feasibly make provision for, and vice versa. The love of a child will not fill a space made for the love of a partner and holding someone is not always the same as being held. We’re all tragically dependent upon others for our emotional needs and every individual we rely on is a tangled mess of motives and irrational fleeting feelings being worked through incrementally, day by day. We won’t ever be free of other people’s inconstancy, or our own, but we live for the moments when we are in sync with those we love and find pure, unalloyed contentment in their company. One Fine Morning doesn’t hit with the intensity of that purity, but it does convey the soft pain of the hopeful search for it.

Written by Hal Kitchen

A graduate of the University of Kent, Reviews Editor Hal Kitchen joined Film Obsessive as a freelance writer in May 2020 following their postgraduate studies in Film with a specialization in Gender Theory and Studies. In November 2020 Hal assumed their role as Reviews Editor. Since then, Hal has written extensively for the site, writing analytical and critical pieces on film, and has represented the site at international film festivals including The London Film Festival and Panic Fest.

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