Maybe this is an overreaction brought on by the dearth of American films that dare to chronicle the lives of recognizable human beings, but Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning is the best new film I’ve seen this year.
The always astonishing Léa Seydoux stars as Sandra, the widowed single mother of an adorable eight-year-old girl (Camille Leban Martins). She makes a modest living as a translator, while trying to find a suitable home for her father Georg (Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy professor suffering from worsening dementia caused by the neurodegenerative ailment Benson’s Syndrome (the same Alzheimer’s variant that felled beloved author Terry Pratchett).
Into this harried life bumps Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an old friend of Sandra’s late husband who happens to be a cosmochemist. (That means he spends his time traveling the globe collecting meteorite fragments when he’s not studying them in his lab.) He’s also unhappily married with a kid of his own, but that doesn’t stop the two of them from initiating what the French might call une liaison extraconjugale.
You’d think this might make Sandra’s life even more hectic, and it does, but she and Clément have a palpable bond that evolves from a physical distraction from their respective woes to something deeper and more complex. In the meantime, Sandra continues to work with her long-divorced mother (played by the veteran actor and director Nicole Garcia) and her father’s current companion (Fejria Deliba) to get Georg into a proper facility, all the while observing his continuing decline. Greggory, a veteran and versatile actor, is quietly heartbreaking as a man who has lost his ability to appreciate the only things that made his life worthwhile: words and ideas.
That may make One Fine Morning sound like a depressing melodrama, but it’s neither. Sandra is neither an indomitable force powering through her crises nor a woman on the verge of collapse—she is, like most of us, someone who moves imperfectly forward because there really isn’t any other option. And her situation feels so true because it contains the joy and despair of both being a parent and having one. ‘One door closes and another opens’ is far too simplistic a metaphor, but it hints at the holistic picture Hansen-Løve paints.
Speaking of the film’s auteur, she has, in a handful of features, become a naturalistic heir to Europe’s cinematic tradition. Her previous film, Bergman Island, explicitly invoked the legacy of the Swedish icon, and the new one similarly echoes how Bergman (when he wasn’t in his formalistic, obscurantist mode) could be such an astute humanist.
As something of a cherry on top, One Fine Morning was shot in 35mm, and Hansen-Løve’s regular cinematographer, Denis Lenoir, isn’t content with a workaday color palette. The visuals are never showy, but color choices enhance the emotional tone of every scene, and the warmth of the images comes through.
For Seydoux, this is a less showy, less sexy sort of role, but if you think the stunning seductress of Spectre, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Crimes of the Future can’t plausibly play a stressed-out single mom, you couldn’t be more wrong. (That isn’t to say she doesn’t have a couple of steamy scenes with Poupaud.) It’s a subtle and impressive performance, expressing Sandra’s grief, both lingering and prospective, as well as her maternal and romantic selves.
There’s no high concept here. (Unless just being French is considered high concept.) There’s no striving toward some operatic enhancement of universal experiences. There’s simply story, and character, and environment, all expertly rendered. And that’s more than fine. (Opens Friday, March 3, at Cinema 21.)
In contrast, the week’s big studio release centers on the sort of conflict that’s anything but universal: the battle to be the heavyweight champion of the world. Who can’t relate, right?
Creed III is technically the eighth film in the Rockyverse, but the first one without Sylvester Stallone in it. (He’s still credited as a producer.) In that sense, it should mark the emergence of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) as a pugilistic hero in his own right, finally and fully freed from his role as an ancillary member of the Balboa bunch.
And yet, even though star Jordan is making his directing debut here, Adonis takes second stage to the movie’s riveting antihero. Damian Anderson (a.k.a. “Dame,” as if that nickname hasn’t already been taken by a sports figure) was, we learn, Adonis’s best friend as a kid, and a promising young boxer whose career, and life, were interrupted by seventeen years in prison. Now free, he reconnects with Creed, who has retired from the ring for a comfortable life as a trainer and promoter with a beautiful wife (Tessa Thompson) and spunky young daughter (Mila Davis-Kent).
Dame is played by Jonathan Majors, who is certainly having a month. As the most recent Marvel cosmic villain in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Majors projects a wounded charisma, a tragic backstory, and a mercurial temper. Well, guess what! He does the same thing here, and it works even better when he’s not doing it in front of a green screen psychedelic nightmare. It works so well, in fact, that Dame’s quest for redemption-cum-vengeance against Adonis (who he blames for abandoning him during his incarceration) makes him arguably more sympathetic than our designated hero.
The first Creed film, written and directed by Ryan Coogler, was an attempt to tell a story that Stallone’s Rocky movies never did: how the struggles of a Black man to achieve greatness in America were every bit as challenging (to put it mildly) as those of a working-class white guy from Philly. It’s disappointing, then, that Creed III doesn’t offer more of a critique of the inextricable linkage between mass incarceration and the exploitation of Black men in America by the sports-industrial complex. It’s too busy checking the boxes necessary to get us to the inevitable, climactic bout between Dame and Adonis in front of thousands of fans at Dodger Stadium.
Ultimately, the movie could have spurred discussion about inequality, allyship, and the responsibilities of minority members who’ve overcome their lack of opportunity towards those left behind. Instead, it just makes you want to go home and do sit-ups. (Opens Friday, March 3, everywhere.)
Looking ahead at the calendars of Portland’s independent theaters, the Hollywood Theatre kicks off its annual Feminist March series in honor of Women’s History Month. This year’s selections run the gamut from classic Hollywood glitz (1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, written by Anita Loos) to grim true-crime (2003’s Monster) to campy feminist splatter (1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II). Don’t miss rare chances to see films such as the Inuit sci-fi thriller Slash/Back and the groundbreaking, newly restored Alma’s Rainbow on the big screen.
At Cinema 21, programmer Eliot Lavine kicks off a month-long Billy Wilder series, including undisputed classics Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., The Apartment, and Some Like It Hot. Each one is among the best Hollywood ever spat out, and each one is a great way to spend a Saturday matinee.
The Clinton Street Theater also devotes much of its March programming to female filmmakers, including Agnès Varda movies every Monday and work from Penelope Spheeris, Susan Seidelman, Sofia Coppola, and others. Of special note is a very rare theatrical screening on March 23 of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which was recently (and controversially) named the Best Film of All Time by Sight and Sound. Judge for yourself by seeing it the way it was meant to be seen.