One Fine Morning aka Un Beau Matin

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The latest report on Mia Hansen-Løve’s mission to keep alive a style of intimate, undemonstrative French cinema, One Fine Morning (Un Beau Matin) stars a highly impressive Léa Seydoux in a role that’s a world away from 007 glamour.

Hansen-Løve is the daughter of philosophy professors and so in Seydoux’s Sandra Kienzler there’s every temptation to read-across from reality to fiction, particularly if you know that a) Hansen-Løve often draws from her own life, and b) she wrote the screenplay while her father was dying from Benson’s syndrome, a degenerative disease, which is exactly what Sandra’s father, a philosophy professor, is suffering from here.

The film opens with Sandra (a shorn, dressed-down Seydoux) calling on her father, and having to instruct him through the front door how to unlock it and let her in. From there it’s a rapid descent – family conferences about what to do with a man who can clearly no longer look after himself, the discussions about hospitals and residential facilities, moving Monsieur Kienzler out of his apartment and away from his cherished books into first a hospital, then a rank public care home before alighting on something a bit more upmarket, sunny and well staffed.

Meanwhile, as one life ebbs, a re-entry into the life emotional looks possible for Sandra, who has been a widow for a few years (in real life Hansen-Løve’s relationship with Olivier Assayas ended a few years back). She meets an old friend of her husband, and in spite of the fact that he’s married and has kids, he starts to manoeuvre himself into a position ready for a romantic liaison with Sandra, if she’s ready to go there.

Sandra and her dad go for a walk
Sandra and dad Georg go for a walk

Hansen-Løve gives each side its proper weight, going into detail about the father’s circumstances, his life, his belongings, while Pascal Greggory does stakhanovite acting work as a man who once had a finely tuned mind and now is only fitfully aware of his situation. With the eye of someone who’s been there she pays particular attention to the various medical and care facilities Georg Kienzler ends up in – this one kindly, that one full of gibbering demented old-olds and staffed by overworked nurses, and finally one that fits the bill, though by this point Georg is largely oblivious to it all. And there’s a particularly telling scene, surely taken from real life, when dad needs to go to the toilet and Sandra calls on a nurse to take him, because she, obviously, can’t do it. Why not?, asks the nurse. Because… Sandra trails off.

On the other side Sandra, her job as a translator, her relationship with her daughter and her mother, dad’s ex-wife, and the budding affair with potential lover Clément (Melvil Poupaud).

It’s with the father-daughter strand that the power of the film lies, partly on account of Greggory’s performance but also because the whole Sandra/Clément relationship – they have sex, they are infatuated, they split up, get back together, rinse and repeat – is quite familiar, particularly if you’re a devotee of French films down the decades.

Some of this is doubtless down to Hansen-Løve’s fondness for the films and style of Éric Rohmer, with a side order of Ingmar Bergman, intensely intimate dramas with a subtext – here she also seems also to be picking away at a notion of a certain type of Europeanness, the intellectual with a hinterland composed of Goethe, Kafka, Arendt, Kant etc. Dissolution and death might be heading that way too.

Hansen-Løve and regular DP Denis Lenoir shoot on film, old school, with a light-as-air unobtrusiveness and bathing everything in the warm glow that celluloid seems to be suited to. This helps cement One Fine Morning into the tradition of French moviemaking but also turns what might have been a grim trudge towards extinction into a poignant and even sweet film, one that’s about the light of a fine morning rather than the encroaching dark at the end of the day.

One Fine Morning aka Un Beau Matin – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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