Sandra (Léa Seydoux) leads a highly complex life. She is a widowed mom raising a daughter in Paris while working full-time as a translator. Sandra is also trying to survive the emotional devastation of caring for her dying father. So you can’t help but cheer when Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a handsome friend from her past, comes back into her life and reignites a spark she long thought dead.
And you can’t help but scream at the screen when the fledgling relationship becomes another emotional complication for Sandra because Clément is married with a son and not ready to leave them and join Sandra for more than an occasional evening of sensual pleasure.
It’s such an emotional rollercoaster – for the audience and the leading lady – that you can’t help but wonder if writer/director Mia Hansen-Love was being sarcastic when she titled her film One Fine Morning. (Don’t worry, she’s not.)
The film contains many emotional scenes that capture the highs and lows of Sandra’s spiraling life. Hansen-Love has a powerful way of capturing them on film by giving them cinematic space to set their own pace. She doesn’t rush her actors to reveal their emotions to the audience or let them play it big for the people in the back row. And she doesn’t depend on the soundtrack to drive the film’s emotional pitch. She is content to capture the human drama before her camera and, like us, watch it unfold.
Seydoux, whose career stretches from Hollywood blockbusters like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and No Time to Die to art-house sensations like Blue Is the Warmest Color and Crimes of the Future, is captivating as Sandra. Whether she’s having a heartbreaking conversation with her sickly father or crying by herself on the bus ride home, there is a soulfulness to Seydoux’s performance that pulls you in to feel her pain. On the flip side, she makes the more joyful scenes of One Fine Morning such a celebration of life that you want to run alongside her in the park and feel what it means to be as happy and carefree as she is in those precious moments. It’s the most complete, well-rounded and well-developed portrait of a woman captured on film for a long time.
If only the romance between Sandra and Clément was as believable. It’s not. There is very little screen chemistry between Seydoux and Poupaud, no feeling of passion or intimacy. They are stiff and awkward when they first meet and stay that way as their romance progresses. And although he has the part of the sleazy married man down pat, Poupaud never feels convincing as the conflicted man falling in love with a woman (who was just a friend) from his past.
As the dying dad, Georg, Pascal Gregory (Pauline at the Beach, La Vie En Rose) is much more believable and sympathetic. You get the clear sense that he wasn’t always a good husband or father and that his work as a philosophy professor was the only real love of his life, but you can also see that the family has come to terms with that over the years. They’ve realized that’s just who he is, and don’t try to change their feelings just because he is dying. It may sound brutal to anyone outside the family dynamic, but like the rest of the film, it’s also brutally honest.