It’s a well-known fact that all French filmmakers are legally required to make at least one movie about an extramarital affair, but few such auteurs have been better-suited to the task than the great Mia Hansen-Løve, whose raw yet ravishingly urbane character dramas (“Eden,” “Bergman Island,” “Goodbye, First Love”) thrive in the messy spaces where fear and excitement overlap — where loss and possibility are as inseparable from each other as a movie and the screen onto which it’s being projected. In fact, the light yet deeply affecting “One Fine Morning” isn’t even Hansen-Løve’s first crack at her national pastime, as the subject of infidelity has cropped up throughout her work, most notably in 2016’s exquisite “Things to Come.”
This time, however, she approaches that sticky situation through the eyes of the other woman, a widowed single mother whose stunning resemblance to Léa Seydoux could make any wedded man rethink their vows. A professional translator who’s come to think of herself as little more than a go-between for other people, Sandra (Léa Seydoux) has perhaps grown a bit too comfortable with her role as an intermediary; her skill at ferrying the same thought from one place to another often seems like it was developed in response to her fear of being stranded between them.
Which is to say that being the direct object of someone else’s affair — embodying whatever personal crisis her cosmo-physicist lover (an earnest yet playful Melvil Poupaud as Clément) has to work through — is a rather organic extension of Sandra’s natural state. It’s not so different from the role she plays for her rapidly deteriorating father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), a once-brilliant academic who can no longer recognize his daughter or listen to the Schubert sonata that used to bring him so much joy. Sandra may be too embarrassed to help Georg use the bathroom, but she’s painfully overeager to bridge the gap between her dad and the ravages of his own mind.
If Hansen-Løve’s naturalistic rhythms and holistic approach to drama have always prevented her movies from seeming as prescriptive as some enamored critic is liable to make them sound, “One Fine Morning” also crystallizes the filmmaker’s rare and deceptively effortless ability to chart a clear path through stormy waters. It’s true that Sandra can translate sadness into joy, just as it’s true that the act of doing so allows her to keep them separate from each other (a clever form of self-defense for someone who’d rather pretend her love life is behind her than risk being shipwrecked again).
And yet this effervescent slice-of-life story, as palpable and alive as a gust of summer air rustling the trees along the Seine (Denis Lenoir’s typically vibrant 35mm cinematography makes sure of that), is never didactic in a way that makes “One Fine Morning” feel like a clichéd story about how Sandra gets her groove back. On the contrary, Hansen-Løve has traced her own paternal grief into an illuminatingly honest sketch about how loss is necessary for rebirth, guilt inextricable from self-fulfillment, and the present worth savoring for its role in bringing the past and the future together — rather than as a buffer for keeping them apart.
It’s also a breezy romantic-drama about pixie-cut Léa Seydoux having a lot of sex with a handsome scientist, at least when Sandra isn’t busy carting her dad from one bleak nursing home to the next. But there’s no space between scenes in a Hansen-Løve movie — life happens always and all of the time — and the rich texture of “One Fine Morning” is derived from the way that Sandra’s various different modes begin to splash into each other.
Seydoux’s riveting performance would be impressive enough for how the actress, who’s seemingly become the face of every fashion brand in Europe, pulls off such a “normal” role (casting iconic beauties as bourgeois nobodies being another fine tradition of French cinema). But the more crucial success of Seydoux’s turn stems from the way she betrays Sandra’s desire to suppress her own emotions and just speak for everyone else. While the character strains to translate Georg’s senile mutterings or smooth out Clément’s self-conflicted feelings about leaving his family, the irrepressible actress playing her is always pushing Sandra toward her own confusion.
Seydoux futilely looks for joy in the morbid scenes between Sandra and her father, and pokes holes into the stolen trysts that her character shares with Clément. The “No Time to Die” star weaponizes her comically palpable sensuality against the person she’s playing, to the point that even Clément has to comment on the disconnect between Sandra’s earthy sex appeal and her years of apparent celibacy. One telling scene — illustrative of Sandra’s role in holding four generations of her family together — finds Sandra smiling as her mom brags about helping a non-violent group of Gen Z activists vandalize a portrait of Emmanuel Macron… even though she voted for him. “You can be for and against at the same time,” her mom insists. Sometimes you have to be.
Sometimes you have to be. “One Fine Morning” is attuned to the moments when Sandra has no other choice but to embrace two seemingly incompatible feelings; it softly pushes her to stop translating between them and instead find a way to hold onto both thoughts at once. “You can still love and be loved” Clément tells her, intending to encourage Sandra towards the future but also inadvertently opening her up to the present.
The quotidien flow of “One Fine Morning” can make that process feel slight — the film is “smaller” than much of Hansen-Løve’s other work, despite its evident star power — but it navigates the messiness of mixed emotions with a first-hand truth that makes other movies like it feel more forced than they already do. By the time Sandra arrives at the final scene (and the Linklater-esque line that gently seals it shut), the film around her has quietly developed the rich and resonant image of a woman who’s learned to hold onto her joy without losing the rest of herself in translation.
“One Fine Morning” premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.