‘One Fine Morning’ is brilliant and moving, except when it isn’t

How to separate the optimists from the pessimists: is the film half good or half bad?

Sony Pictures Classics

By Anna Swanson Published on September 16, 2022

As part of our coverage of the 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival, Anna Swanson reviews Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film, One Fine Morning. Follow along with more coverage in our archives of the Toronto International Film Festival.

There is a fine line between sympathy and pity. It can’t always be measured by something definable, but when you experience compassion that leans toward condescension, you know the difference. Mia Hansen-Løve is a filmmaker who certainly knows that difference and has spent her career maintaining a place on the side of compassion. The French filmmaker tends to construct films about women navigating family and/or romantic relationships. In her stories, key dramatic moments can be turbulent life-changing events or the bittersweet truths of everyday life. What has consistently endeared her movies to viewers is that she always has compassion for her characters, but she never looks down on them. In her last, Have a nice morningexamining pity but not giving in to it is the main subject.

The movie follows Leah Seydoux‘s Sandra, a Parisian single mother who her father Georg (Pascal Gregory), while his health deteriorates. Georg, a former professor of philosophy, has been diagnosed with Benson’s syndrome, a disease similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Sandra and the rest of the family try to keep Georg comfortable and cared for, but with him sliding back and forth between public and private healthcare facilities, it can be difficult to figure out what’s actually best for him.

Although Sandra is begged by her own grandmother during a visit to always resist pity for others, this principle is strained by her father’s circumstances. There is an obvious measure of family love (even Sandra’s mother, separated from Georg for decades, tries to help him), but as his condition worsens, Sandra struggles to keep a sense of who her father was.

Complicating matters even more is that Sandra is trapped in her own web of tangled interpersonal relationships. She has a chance meeting with Clement (Melvil Poupaud), a former friend of her late husband, and begins her own friendship with him. Now that she’s spent the past five years alone and he’s in a marriage that’s lost its spark, it won’t be long before the platonic relationship evolves into something more. While Sandra insists that what they have isn’t just an affair, that’s how it presents itself initially. The tension comes from Clement balancing between his newfound passionate affair and the devotion he made to his wife, not to mention the complication of having a child at home.

It’s their relationship that sadly sucks the air out of what is otherwise a compelling and thoughtful drama. The connection between Sandra and Clement feels constantly torn between opposing readings of their dynamics. From the moment they meet, it seems clear that this is not the foundation of a healthy relationship. She is single but shaken by the developments with her father and very emotionally raw. He is married and has a child. If there was a real spark of passion between them it might be understandable for them to get into an entanglement, but the chemistry just doesn’t seem to be there. And it’s not that Hansen-Løve isn’t adept at capturing the chemistry between her characters; for proof, look no further than last year’s Bergman Island.

But of course, the relationship doesn’t have to be a torrid, passionate affair to be compelling. While Sandra is enchanted by Clement from the start, he keeps her at bay. He returns to his wife and then, soon, returns to Sandra several times. Her desperation does indeed conjure up ideas of Sandra as the subject of pity, but this comes across as an afterthought, especially when contextualized in the filmmaker’s body of work.

The dynamics of Sandra and Clement, one in which she is devoted to him, and he sees her as an option, was explored brilliantly in Hansen-Løve’s coming-of-age drama Goodbye first love. In the 2011 film, it was youthful naivety that kept one half of a couple on the other despite the red flags. In Have a nice morningSandra’s fragile emotional state makes her cling to a connection, even when Clement has shown his willingness to ignore her.

However, while Goodbye first love approached these ideas with depth, insight and empathy, the same aspiration does not happen in Have a nice morning. The fact that Sandra’s priorities are divided between her family and her relationship (not to mention her child and her job) is realistic for the burden she takes on as an adult. But it also means that not enough screen time is spent on her relationship with Clement to invest in the outcome of their affair. Instead, Sandra and Clement come across as the CliffsNotes version of a relationship dynamic that Hansen-Løve has already explored in a much more compelling way elsewhere.

While the film in general may not match Hansen-Løve’s best work, there is always something enriching to be found in her films. In Have a nice morningA Moment to Cherish, for example, revolves around a monologue by Sandra about how her father’s extensive book collection is more his own than he is at the moment. While his deteriorating health has taken a toll on his mind, his library—the books he cared for, the things that enriched him and in turn passed on to others—is what Sandra clings to. She can look at his books with an affection that she cannot always evoke for the man himself. It’s a heartbreaking and honest detail from a filmmaker who tends to excel in exactly those qualities. To discount the value of these moments due to other flaws in the film – that would be a real shame.

Related Topics: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

Anna Swanson is a Senior Contributor from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest showing of a Brian De Palma film.

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