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‘One Fine Morning’: Léa Seydoux shines in an intimate character study

The French actress is superb in this tender portrait of a woman trying to balance her needs with those of others

Pascal Greggory, left, and Léa Seydoux in “One Fine Morning.” (Carole Bethuel/Les Films Pelléas/Sony Pictures Classics)
3 min
(3 stars)

In “One Fine Morning,” a tender character study from French writer-director Mia Hansen-Love, Léa Seydoux plays a Parisian widow whose personal and professional lives revolve around the needs of others. As a translator, Seydoux’s Sandra spends her days guiding American veterans through Normandy or interpreting talks for lecture hall audiences. Between jobs, she strolls the streets from one familial obligation to another, picking up her young daughter from school and fencing classes while caring for her ailing father as his mind slowly fades.

That doesn’t leave Sandra with much time for anything else in this nuanced portrait of a woman torn between the people who depend on her and her own dormant desires. When Sandra reconnects with Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a married friend who leads a more adventurous life as a globe-trotting scientist, the 30-something mother makes a casual concession: “I just feel my love life is behind me.” But those words are promptly disproved when Sandra and Clément’s flirtations blossom into a full-blown affair.

Seydoux, best known for her femme fatale turns in the past two James Bond movies, is restrained but radiant in this naturalistic depiction of a woman rediscovering her sensuality. As Clément, Poupaud plays the conflicted husband with palpable consternation. Although guilt over betraying his wife’s and son’s trust eats at Clément, Hansen-Love is refreshingly nonjudgmental toward an entanglement that easily could have been flattened into a cautionary tale. “One Fine Morning,” thankfully, is focused more on Sandra’s and Clément’s humanity than their indiscretions.

Amid the emotionally taxing affair, Sandra also worries about the well-being of her daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins, delightfully plucky), whose sudden limp appears to be psychosomatic. Yet it’s the deterioration of her father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy professor with a neurodegenerative condition, that pushes Sandra to the brink. Georg’s mind seems vacant, as his eyesight fades and he grows increasingly prone to delusion and disorientation. But Hansen-Love’s semi-autobiographical script provides heart-wrenching glimpses of the empathetic academic within.

As Georg moves out of his well-lived-in apartment and transitions to full-time care, Sandra and her family sort through his belongings — namely, towering bookcases that gesture toward the kind of intellectual curiosity that’s been tragically undone by his disease. For all of her tear-stifling resolve, Sandra can’t help but break down as the weight of her father’s reality closes in on her. When a former student of Georg’s asks for his email address, Sandra struggles to share the extent of his decline. Later, Seydoux devastates as her character confides in Clément while considering her own life’s fragility.

Through Sandra, Hansen-Love delicately communicates how everyday hurdles can feel insurmountable in the face of a loved one’s mortality. It’s a challenging display of caregiving’s toll, and the ways in which hardship shapes a worldview. The languid film largely proceeds without a score, though Hansen-Love does lean on the considered compositions of veteran cinematographer Denis Lenoir to enhance the intimacy.

It shouldn’t be a shock that Hansen-Love doesn’t quite know where to end this humanistic rumination, considering such tales don’t lend themselves to tidy resolutions. For a film so steeped in sorrow, “One Fine Morning” surprises with a conclusion about the value of forging on and seizing opportunities for reinvention. In the midst of such darkness, it’s comforting to be reminded that the dawn always comes.

R. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains some sexuality, nudity and coarse language. In French with subtitles. 112 minutes.