Un Beau Matin: a realist meditation on mortality, memory, loss and the love and beauty that endure

Mia Hansen-Løve, “Un Beau Matin” / “One Fine Morning” (2022)

One fine morning in Paris … a woman’s life unexpectedly changes when, while visiting a park with her daughter, she returns a stray soccer ball to a boy … and meets his father who turns out to be an old friend of her deceased husband. Sandra Kienzler (Léa Seydoux), a translator / interpreter by profession, runs into Clément (Melvil Poupaud) who has just returned from a scientific expedition to the North Pole. They agree to meet again for dinner and not long after Clément takes Sandra to see his lab when she expresses interest in his work as a chemical cosmologist. While at his lab, the two share a kiss and soon start having an affair.

Why would Sandra start having an affair with a married man? The film shows us Sandra’s daily routine, working as a translator for US war veterans and international science conventions, taking her daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins) to school and after-school activities, and caring for her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy lecturer suffering from Benson’s syndrome (a type of dementia) which is robbing him of his sight and cognitive faculties. In the course of the film, Georg’s condition steadily worsens and Sandra together with her mother Françoise (Nicole Garcia), who divorced Georg years ago but still looks out for him, and sister Elodie (Sarah Le Picard) must navigate the French aged care system and find Georg an appropriate nursing home that can take care of him. The public nursing home system has a long waiting list and the private homes are too expensive. Much of the film focuses on how Georg is shuffled from one home to the next and the long bus and train journeys Sandra makes across Paris to visit her father in each home. With a life like hers, it’s no wonder that since her husband died, Sandra has been neglecting her own needs and bumping into Clément has awakened something deep inside that she has been ignoring. Of course, falling in love with Clément complicates life for both Sandra and Clément as he is torn between leaving his wife and son for Sandra, and staying in a marriage already falling apart, and Sandra has no wish to be his mistress but wants him to commit to her instead.

Directed and shot in a realist style, with the audience playing the part of flies on the wall observing the humans in their daily dramas and complicated relationships, the film maintains a level keel emotionally. The director avoids using shocking drama or pushing her characters into having tantrums or noisy arguments. Sure, Sandra has weepy moments but they are very restrained. Although the plot is nothing out of the ordinary, it proceeds energetically thanks in no small part to the fine acting and well-developed characters. Georg elicits much sympathy for his deteriorating health, even as he fails to recognise his ex-wife and two daughters, and keeps asking for companion Leila. Greggory is to be commended for the sensitve way in which he portrays a man who is aware of, and frustrated with, his condition which robs him of his memory – and with it, his identity. Mother Françoise is a hoot as an environmentalist / political activist who, despite her age, gets into fights with the police at demonstrations.

That a film interested mainly in people’s relationships and the impacts that those relationships make in those people’s lives, no matter how mundane those impacts actually are, manages to make one ordinary woman’s complicated life and love affair compelling to watch is due to its brisk pace, the energy of its script and the acting cast, and the script’s emphasis on themes of ageing, mortality, loss and the love and beauty that endure in spite of the encroachment of death.