A widowed single-mom, broken-hearted over her aging father’s decline, finds something to look forward to in stealing another woman’s husband in “One Fine Morning (“Un beau matin”), the latest navel-gazing drama from the director of “Bergman Island” and “Goodbye First Love.”
That sentence passes more judgement than writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve ever offers in this intimate romance built on close observations and not reaching conclusions about characters and their actions. It’s about stasis, death and personal rebirth, not consequences or collateral damage. It suffers from those omissions.
Léa Seydoux is Sandra, a freelance translator turning German or English speakers at conferences, D-Day reunions and other public engagements into French or English that her listeners can understand. It’s a job that requires concentration, but whose hours allow her to dote on eight-year-old daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) and check in frequently on her philosophy professor father (Pascal Greggory), who is losing his sight and his faculties, we eventually learn, to Benson’s syndrome, a form of dementia.
Seeing someone whose “whole life was committed to thinking” (in French with English subtitles) break down this way, hearing her father insist that “You mustn’t let people take pity on you,” brings her to tears.
But things look up when she crosses paths with an old friend of her and her late husband’s. Clément (Melvil Poupaud) is a globe-trotting scientist — a “cosmo-chemist” with a wife and son about Linn’s age. Their first conversation, in a park where they reconnect, introduces the idea that his marriage isn’t the best and that she figures “my love life is behind me.”
Neither we nor they have to be French to see that as foreplay for the affair that quickly follows.
Hansen-Løve’s film enfolds three points of view — Sandra’s work life, where every so often she lets her mind wander off-task and into the situations facing her off-duty, her tentative-then-torrid romance with the dashing scientist who happens to be great with kids, and the step-by-step decline that she, her sister (Sarah Le Picard), her father’s companion (Fejria Deliba), assorted health care workers and counselors and her mother (Nicole Garcia) witness and take steps to manage.
Her mother and father are long-divorced, but Mom still has a say and just enough distance to organize moving into a nursing home (a multi-stage process) and disposing of her husband’s apartment, mementos and vast collection of books.
Every step, every encounter with one of her father’s former students, makes Sandra weep. At least she has this new love, a man her daughter is quite taken with.
As matter of fact and real-world/real-people as “One Fine Morning” can be, there’s an airless unreality to it all. We never meet “the wife,” barely glimpse the little boy and only a few predictable “I can’t do this to them” backsliding moments address these complications of having an affair at 40.
There’s a whole ready-for-export corner of French cinema where TVs are never glimpsed, where only Schubert or Renaissance music is overheard and where the only jobs are writer, academic or translator who is also working on a project to turn the letters of Annemarie Schwarzenbach into something French academics and French speakers can read.
Think of the last 25 French films you saw, and I dare say 20 of them will meet these criteria. Even the hospital and nursing home scenes here have a film-set quiet about them, as if this is not a detail this tale of life’s details cares to bother with.
The real human emotions, seeing one’s own mortality through a failing parent, noticing how your child is impacted by this new lover and possible father figure who may not work out, get somewhat swallowed in a sort of Woody-Allen-at-his-most-pretentious-and-Bergmaneseque sterility.
Seydoux is subtle and introspective here, and a tad dull despite the obligatory nude scenes. Her sparkling work in “The French Dispatch” and showier turns in “France” and even the Bond films underscores how muted this character and this story are.
Hansen-Løve often makes personal films exploring the geography of the psyche and intellectualizing such corners of it as the creative process, love and loss. “Bergman Island” touched on the “creative couple” dynamic and can be taken as a fictional dissection of her relationship with her longtime mentor and lover, the much older and more established French filmmaker Olivier Assayas.
There’s nothing remotely that juicy or interesting going on here. And the universality of the “stage of life” experiences is somewhat lost when you remove all the edges, complications and distractions from your portrait, which then takes on the tone of “still life” more often than any movie should.
Rating: R for some sexuality, nudity and language
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Nicole Garcia, Camille Leban Martins and Pascal Greggory
Credits: Scripted and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:52