Hot on the heels of Francois Ozon’s Everything Went Fine (though I acknowledge that in some territories the release order was the reverse) comes another French movie about a woman struggling with her father’s end-of-life arrangements. And while the circumstances are notably different in terms of financial wherewithal and how the arrangements are supposed to be realized, both films make striking attempts to connect with the viewer through credible empathy: This is something you’re going to have to go through yourself, probably more than once. And in that regard, Mia Hansen-Løve’s more contemplative, emotionally fraught film strikes deeper at those nerves that will always be raw due to whatever frictions we experience in our dealings with parents—or families in general, for that matter.
Like Ozon’s female protagonist, Emmanuele, Sandra (Lea Seydoux) is the product of an academic upbringing, but unlike Emmanuele Sandra hasn’t benefited materially from that situation as much. She works in Paris as a freelance German and English interpreter, and is translating a book in her spare time more or less as a means of maintaning her intellectual cred, though once her father’s neuro-degenerative condition worsens, she doesn’t have any time to spare. In addition to taking care of her father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), a retired philosophy professor who grew up in Austria, a chore she shares with several other related women, including her sister (Sarah Le Picard), mother (Nicole Garcia), and Georg’s current partner (Fejria Deliba), Sandra is raising an 8-year-old daughter, Linn (Camille Leban Martins), alone, since her own partner died five years earlier. Seydoux’s performance and Hansen-Løve’s direction create a character who is obviously overwhelmed by her responsibilities and yet seems almost enlivened by them. In an early scene in which she visits her father, who is still living alone in his book-stuffed apartment, she has to talk him through the steps necessary for him to unlock his front door, and the patience she exhibits is heartbreaking. It also sets the tone for not only the movie as a whole, but our way of processing what happens to Sandra. Again, unlike in Ozon’s movie, where addressing the stricken father’s condition was mainly a matter of tolerating his offensive personality, here Georg has no real input into what happens to him, and because of his less privileged financial situation, Sandra and her family are forced to move him from one facility to another until they can secure an affordable permanent residence. In the meantime, Sandra has embarked on a love affair with her late partner’s best friend, Clement (Melvil Poupaud), a self-styled “cosmochemist” whose married status posits the usual tensions such relationships entail, and while initially it’s all about sex (“I had assumed my love life was behind me”), Sandra, at least, finds herself in need of a more grounded emotional experience given the precarity of the rest of her waking existence.
Hansen-Løve doesn’t have to belabor the various conflicts that afflict Sandra’s life because there is always the certitude that things will change, and the appeal of the film as encapsulated in its title (also the title of Georg’s unfinished memoir) is that change is both inevitable and what impresses us most about the past. If resilience is the movie’s indomitable theme, the everyday redemption that Sandra enjoys for simply doing the right thing—even when doing the right thing means being miserable—is what makes it so affecting.
In French. Opens May 5 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670), Cine Switch Ginza (03-3561-0707).
One Fine Morning home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2022 LFP-Les films pelleas/Razor Film Produktion/Arte France Cinema/Dauphin Films/Mubi/CN6 Productions/Bayerische Rundfunk/Zack Films