The Seasoned Ticket #213

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning opens this weekend at SIFF Cinema Uptown.

I interviewed the cinematographer Denis Lenoir a few years ago and he talked about someone complimenting him for how graceful his camerawork was in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come, and he said he waved off the compliments by responding, “Thank you, very sweet of you, I appreciate it but at the same time the grace comes from Mia Hansen-Løve.” That word “grace” seems as good as any to describe the casual-looking but charged world of this director, whose new film One Fine Morning is laced with that quality.

The opening shot, for instance, is seemingly generic in its set-up (Lenoir is once again the cinematographer, shooting on film, not digital), as main character Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux, excellent) walks along a narrow Paris street toward the camera; it looks indeed like un beau matin. And yet the bright morning light is somehow specific, and so is the way the close-in buildings throw shadow across half the image. It’s an ordinary shot, and yet achingly handsome. Sandra is a translator, with an eight-year-old daughter (Camille Leban Martins); her husband died five years ago. 

The movie is structured along two helices that wind around each other: One involves Sandra’s new love affair with an old friend, now a married father (Melvil Poupaud), the other around her father (Pascal Greggory), a retired professor of philosophy afflicted with a rare disease that alters his ability to see and reason. These situations remain in flux for the duration of the movie: the new beau constantly re-thinking his obligations to wife and son, the father getting moved around from his own book-filled apartment to a variety of care facilities.

The back-and-forth seems to be the film’s reason for being; maybe that’s why the ending feels curious, too pat or abrupt—at least at first. But it is likely just another swerve on the never-ceasing loop, not an ending at all. Along the way, Hansen-Løve cruises between familiar scenes of ordinary life (a Christmas Eve party, a night in the country watching shooting stars) and very specific bittersweet details, like the moment Sandra plays her father’s favorite composer, Schubert, and he can’t handle the music—it has become “too laden,” in one of the many evocative phrases he utters. 

Without ever coming on like a major work, One Fine Morning finds these powerful spots. The father’s library of beloved books is repeatedly referenced, and at one point Sandra describes the way that his books now represent him more than his diminished self does, an observation accompanied by a few Truffaut-like close-ups of book spines on their shelves, an unusually forceful emphasis in the film’s otherwise languid flow. This is the grace of Hansen-Løve’s films, their dance between casualness and rapt attention, calibrated without an ounce of phoniness, a tone as humble and yet thrilling as the words “one fine morning.”

The Denis Lenoir interview. 


March 3, 2023

Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

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