Review: Fleeting joys in the sublime ‘One Fine Morning’

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows, from left, Melvil Poupaud, Camille Leban Martins and Léa Seydoux in a scene from "One Fine Morning." (Sony Pictures Classics via AP)
The Associated Press

Like most things, the title of Mia Hansen-Løve’s “One Fine Morning” sounds better in French.

“Un Beau Matin” doesn’t have that same rom-commy ring. But it’s kind of nice to imagine a moviegoer, expecting a Hallmark movie, strolling instead into Hansen-Løve’s sublimely melancholic drama about the ineffable impermanence of life.

For anyone, though, there’s a wistful, warm feeling when wandering into a Hansen-Løve film. Hers are delicate dramas keenly tuned to the rhythm of daily life, and “One Fine Morning” is her most radiant film yet.

Sandra (Léa Seydoux) is a Parisian single mother with a young daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins), and a father, Georg (tenderly played by Pascal Greggory), whose memory is going due to Benson’s syndrome. As Sandra and her mother (Nicole Garcia), long divorced from Georg, make arrangements for him to enter a nursing home, a dormant part of Sandra’s life (Linn’s father died five years earlier) is rekindled by an unexpected romance with an old friend, Clément (Melvil Poupaud).

Though “One Fine Morning” sways between youth and old age, sensuality and incapacity, it’s not a neat dichotomy. Hansen-Løve’s film, which first moved moviegoers at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and which arrives in theaters Friday, is more gracefully concerned with the constancy of loss. Loved ones come and go, painfully; both the increasingly disoriented Georg and Clément, unhappily married but not separated, are there one moment and gone the next. In the film’s first scene, Georg fumbles with the lock to his front door, while Sandra waits on the other side, trying to guide him.

Hansen-Løve, who also wrote the script, is a committed naturalist whose stories build with the steady accumulation of quotidian detail and shift with the unexpected undulations of relationships. As in the best of her films but more so, “One Fine Morning” gathers a moving poignancy without you ever realizing it. One moment, you might feel as though the narrative focus is drifting or sliding into repetition; the next, you can hardly imagine a more cohesive and affecting encapsulation of bittersweet human truths.

Much of that is owed to the tender performance by a never-better Seydoux. For an actress capable of such glamour, it’s a powerfully unadorned performance, filled with joy and sadness, often at the same time. Scenes of “One Fine Morning” toggle between hospital wards and Sandra’s apartment. Seydoux plays the head-spinning back-and-forth between love affair and elderly care with calm composure and occasional eruptions of emotion.

Words, we sense, are fading. One of the tasks of Sandra and her mother is to sort through the extensive library of her father, a former philosophy professor. The heaps of books are a kind of physical manifestation of what Georg — described before his downturn as obsessed with clarity and rigor — is losing and leaving behind. Sandra, herself a translator, grows increasingly aware that the same fate, inevitably is hers. But if to love is to lose, it’s a bargain worth making — for a “beau matin” and more. In this achingly luminous drama drawn from the familiar stuff of daily life, it’s a nurse who puts it most succinctly: “Make the most of being together.”

“One Fine Morning,” a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for some sexuality, nudity and language. In French with subtitles. Running time: 112 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.