The Parisian dream of romance is subjected to a hard dose of social realism in Mia Hansen-Løve’s newest film, One Fine Morning. Starring Léa Seydoux as Sandra, we first meet the film’s protagonist en route to her father’s apartment. With a backpack firmly strapped in place over her shoulders, she strides forward with the determined gait of a foot soldier. Her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a retired philosophy professor whose eyesight and memory are failing, needs to be coached through the process of opening his own door. Sandra realizes he’ll no longer be able to continue living on his own.
Along with caring for her father, Sandra’s responsibilities include a full-time job as a translator, as well as raising a young daughter by herself. Widowed for five years, she travels from one arrondissement to the next, into classrooms and international political and business meetings. And while Georg can’t recall any details about Sandra’s life, she remains steadfast in her devotion to him.
Her mother Françoise (Nicole Garcia), long-divorced from Georg, is Sandra’s primary source of semi-dependable support. Remarried and busily pursuing a later-in-life career as a climate change activist and protestor, Françoise still feels obligated to help Sandra settle her father into a decent nursing home.
For the first part of the film, One Fine Morning echoes the commentary made in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s movies such as Two Days, One Night. Like the Dardenne brothers, Hansen-Løve appears to be assessing and condemning a systemic societal problem — in this case health care — with Sandra as her warm-blooded avatar. The first two care facilities considered for Georg are dismal. Geriatric or end-of-life care is an unavoidable, depressing reality, but decent places seem to be financially out of reach for both him and his extended family.
One Fine Morning shifts when Sandra runs into Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a friend of her late husband’s, on one of her days crisscrossing Paris. She has been keeping her emotions contained as a way of coping with the demands of her family and career, but spending time with Clément ignites dormant desires for affection and intimacy. Of course, Hansen-Løve doesn’t make the love affair easy: Clément lives with his wife and son.
The tensions in One Fine Morning alternate between the drama of Sandra’s affair and the practical realities of making a living and caring for a family. Paris is a romantic backdrop for Clément and Sandra as they stroll through parks and cozy up in stylish cafés. Hansen-Løve shows us Paris from their viewpoint, through the eyes of locals. In these moments, the pressures and stresses of everyday life momentarily disappear, as Parisians take advantage of the cosmopolitan city they inhabit.