Upon the release of her latest feature ‘One Fine Morning,’ Document curates a list of the writer-director’s most intimate stories
Mia Hansen-Løve does not need to explain herself—her films rarely offer much context, or include clear exposition, or even begin at the beginning, so much as they plunge you into the middle of a story, unfurling in all of its complexity. The untameability of life is her co-conspirator. With the release of her latest feature, One Fine Morning, the French writer-director has cemented herself as a master of intimate storytelling, her films traversing the granularity of everything, from addiction, to coming of age, to suicide, marriage, art, aging, and even club culture with a sensitive, introspective touch. The film scholar Kate Ince characterizes her corpus as a “cinema of candour and vulnerability.”
At only 42, Hansen-Løve has made eight feature films in 15 years—a major accomplishment for any working director, and in particular, for one who gives women’s lives the kind of sustained attention and affirmation they seldom receive, even in independent and art cinema. In One Fine Morning, for instance, Hansen-Løve tells the story of a single mother (Léa Seydoux) who is struggling to care for her father as he loses his memory, while also going through heartbreak herself. The story is culled from the pages of the filmmaker’s own life, embedding a rich knowledge of grief, indecision, and tenderness that plays out palpably on-screen.
Hansen-Løve has described the process of screenwriting and directing as a kind of personal exorcism or therapy—a way of making sense of what is happening to her, in real time. Born in Paris, her parents were professors of philosophy, which she would later study herself. As a teenager, she acted in films by Olivier Assayas, her partner from 2002 to 2017. She built her cinematic vocabulary as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema, the legendary French film journal known equally for its incisive writing and its internal turbulence; Hansen-Løve once suggested that she left not only to start making films, but also in response to the publication’s misogyny. These autobiographical breadcrumbs crop up in her work: Many of her films circle the same kinds of characters (philosophy students or professors, German translators, the wives of famous directors) and settings (Parisian cafés, classrooms, and cozy, book-filled apartments).
Document curates a list of not only Hansen-Løve’s best films, but also those through which patterns of feeling grow and take root, forming the shape of an overarching philosophy of life. One learns to live with polarity: doubt and inspiration, grief and beauty, loss and love.
“Hansen-Løve has described the process of screenwriting and directing as a kind of personal exorcism or therapy—a way of making sense of what is happening to her, in real time.”
Father of My Children (2009)
Winner of a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Father of My Children begins with a young cosmopolitan family in Paris whose life suddenly unravels. When the patriarch Grégoire becomes overwhelmed by his film company’s insurmountable debt, he commits suicide, leaving his wife Sylvia to produce his outstanding projects herself.
Grégoire’s death runs a shocking scar down the middle of Hansen-Løve’s second feature, but it is buttressed on either side by gentle, earnest attempts at life and love. It is dedicated in part to the French film producer Humbert Balsan, who had planned to produce Hansen-Løve’s first feature before his own suicide in 2005.
Hansen-Løve again drew from reality for 2014’s Eden, this time collaborating with her brother Sven on its script, modeling it after his life as a DJ in the European techno scene. Sven’s avatar is Paul, a French student infatuated with rave culture who begins a DJ collective with a group of friends, which leads to a career in garage music that spans almost two decades. With an infectious soundtrack that took years to secure the rights for, Eden is by far the filmmaker’s loudest, flashiest film, set across Paris and New York, and featuring a small part played by Greta Gerwig (who was also originally cast for the more recent Bergman Island, but dropped out to make Little Women).
Things to Come (2016)
This film was written specifically for the actor Isabelle Huppert, in a role that Hansen-Løve says is based, in part, on her mother. A treatise on the meaning of liberty—its unexpectedness, its risks and rewards, its entanglement with fear—Things to Come explores what happens when a middle-aged philosophy teacher in Paris is suddenly abandoned by her husband, as her children move out and her mother dies. Contending with grief, but also unmoored from the dependence of others, Huppert’s Nathalie must come to see the world anew. “It is very hard today to take on a character who is nuanced and that’s what I wanted to do, that’s what interests me,” the director explained. “I think that my cinema is nuanced; it’s ambivalent.”
“It is very hard today to take on a character who is nuanced and that’s what I wanted to do, that’s what interests me.”
Bergman Island (2021)
Allegedly a film à clef about Hansen-Løve’s partnership with Assayas, Bergman Island follows a filmmaker couple visiting Fårö, a Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman lived. Surrounded by the legacy of one of cinema’s most legendary talents, Chris (Vicky Krieps) is struck by the ways in which Bergman and her husband Tony were allowed to pursue their careers without domestic obligations or crises of confidence. She begins to write a film about a young woman who has a love affair on the island—a story that becomes entangled, slowly, with scenes from her real life. The passages from Chris’s film are beautifully performed by Mia Wasikowska and feature one of the greatest cinematic uses of ABBA’s discography (barring the Mamma Mia franchise) ever seen on-screen.
One Fine Morning (2022)
As a critic wrote last week in 4Columns: “Imagine the shock of discovering that your husband’s mistress is Léa Seydoux.” The actor brings effortless likeability to her role as Sandra, a single mother and translator living in Paris who is losing her father to a rare neurodegenerative illness. Like in Father of My Children, Things to Come, and Bergman Island, Hansen-Løve spotlights women’s emotional and domestic labors in One Fine Morning, as well as the everyday costs of looking after others without anyone to look after you. Sandra’s outlook is changed when she begins an affair with Clément, and discovers that she can live not only for others, but for her own happiness, as well.
With a devastatingly precise script and vivid, lived-in performances, One Fine Morning considers the various planes upon which one copes with and confronts loss—asking what we hold onto, and what we may need to let go of. The film is also engaged in its own kind of love affair with Paris, which Hansen-Løve renders more beautifully than ever before. Through its microscopic attention to complex human relationships, One Fine Morning cements the filmmaker’s status as one of the most insightful French screenwriters and directors working today.