In early May, American audiences (a few, anyway) got a chance to see the harrowing drama in split-screen Vortex by Gaspar Noe, in which an elderly Parisian couple falls apart. Ten years ago, the film of Michael Haneke which told more or less the same story, Lovewas nominated for an Oscar for best picture. Another French dementia drama premiered at Cannes just last year. It’s a brutal, if often gratifying, trend for these films to tackle the scariest end-of-life possibilities with a no-nonsense look.
The masterful director Mia Hansen-Løve she returned to Cannes after the enchanting Bergman Island from last year to offer his take on this French fade. his film, One Fine Morning, is typical of many of his earlier works, in that it is sensitive and wise and seems to wander a bit aimlessly until suddenly a unified meaning is revealed. It’s a bitterly sad film, but also warm and delicate to the point that you don’t leave with a sob but with a sigh.
Léa Seydoux plays Sandra, a translator and single mother who lives in Paris and whose father, Georg (Pascal Gregory), has gone blind due to a degenerative disease and needs more and more care. Sandra and her father have not yet accepted this reality, until Sandra’s mother (Nicole Garcia) does not convince her that, according to all medical opinions, they will have to admit Georg to some kind of nursing home.
The trial, with all its burden of personal pain and bureaucratic frustrations, takes up about half of the film. There is a parallel narrative track in which Sandra has a relationship with Clément,(Melvil Poupaud), a married man who was friends with Sandra’s husband (I think one has to assume that Sandra is a widow). So here is the beginning of something risky and complicated but full of energy, just as, at another point in Sandra’s life, her passionate and intellectual father (he taught philosophy at the university) is losing the joy of living.
One Fine Morning follows these narrative threads as Sandra deals with two broken hearts, one imminent and the other all too possible. However, Hansen-Løve did not make a psychological film. One Fine Morning it is full of captivating humor about French politics, the strange idiosyncrasies of children, the terrifying and sadly funny chaos of aged care facilities. The film, and Sandra, need this occasional levity to move forward, just as Sandra needs something new – all of Cléments’ ardent, if unreliable, attention – to get away from the fatalism of dealing with the slow death of a parent. (And, indeed, from the fatalism of considering one’s own).
This is a movie about caring for people and yourself, as a way not only to defend ourselves against mortality in the best possible way, but to feel crucially connected to the fullness of our present. We observe Sandra taking care of her father and her daughter, explaining the world to both of them, one at the beginning of her time, the other at the end. The fact that Sandra is a translator is certainly not a casual detail: her job is to clarify things for others, to guide people towards understanding by filtering everything through her own matrix of knowledge and experience.
When the final scene comes, softly deep, One Fine Morning he pauses to savor the sensory and emotional richness of being alive, his sadness is perhaps a necessary counterweight to his pleasure. Seydoux he relishes the opportunity to interpret such a nuanced and everyday sentiment. Her performance is finely observed and careful, negotiating subtle shifts in Sandra’s psychology. I imagine Séydoux would be in the running for the Best Actress award here in Cannes, if her film were in the main competition and not in the sidebar section of the Directors’ Fortnight.
The same goes for the work of Vicky Krieps in the debut of Un Certain Regard, Corsagesdirected by Marie Kreutzerwhose latest film, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, was a criminally underrated study in moody suspense. In Corsages (which refers to a corset, not the American prom accessory), Kreutzer returns to the reign of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, stuck in an unhappy marriage to Franz Joseph I and mourning the loss of a son. She’s also about to turn 40, a precarious time for a woman of the era renowned for her youthful beauty.