Mia Hansen-Løve, the French writer-director whose previous film “Bergman Island” competed at last year’s Cannes, is back at the festival with “One Fine Morning,” a romantic drama headlined by Lea Seydoux. The movie world premiered at Directors’ Fortnight and has earned stellar reviews, with Variety‘s Guy Lodge describing it as a “wistful, wandering character study” and “gently moving reflection on parenting one’s children and parents at once,” which marks Hansen-Løve’s “return to French, and to form.” “One Fine Morning” stars Seydoux as a long-single mother who’s coping with her father’s degenerative illness while embarking on a new, uncertain romance with a charming, yet emotionally unavailable, man (Melvil Poupaud). Hansen-Love spoke to Variety about her experience directing Seydoux in this personal movie, taking on new challenges, her experience at Cannes and what she’s working on next. Les Films du Losange is handling international sales on the movie, which was produced by Les Films Pelleas, in co-production with Razor Film Produktion.
How autobiographical is “One Fine Morning”? Would you say it’s your most personal film?
It’s not exactly an autobiography, but it’s definitely a very personal film. There are things in the story that are inspired by my life, but not more so than in my previous films. I know about illness — my father suffered a degenerative illness. After “Bergman Island,” I just felt compelled to make this film. It’s usually how it happens, I don’t make deliberate choices to make a film or another. Through this film, I wanted to process something that happened to me several times, where you come across the possibility to fall in love, just as you are grieving, and you’re drifting away from the pain. It brings great joy, and at the same time, some torments. Films talk about life, which can be cruel, but we need cruelty to feel alive. In Sandra’s case, she’s torn between the empathy she feels for her father and her own desires. She embarks on this new love to survive, to escape this shipwreck.
Why did you choose to have her fall in love with someone who isn’t emotionally available?
Because I have this vision of love that it’s never simple. Sometimes it’s a battle to make a relationship work. I wanted to write a film that was nuanced, which would reflect my experience of the world, often riddled with challenges, and show how love can be fragile and vulnerable.
There is also a political dimension in the film.
Yes, but I didn’t try to make an overtly political film. But it turns out that the ordeal of families navigating the world of retirement homes resonates strongly today. [Since the start of the pandemic], more and more people have started becoming more aware of this because we’re in a country where the population is aging and there are more and more people suffering from degenerative illness. It’s very difficult to age when you’re ill. It’s a topic which has been recently tackled in François Ozon’s “Everything Went Fine” and Gaspar Noé’s “Vortex,” but I didn’t watch those films because I didn’t want to feel influenced in any way. I found it interesting to deal with this topic in a way that was modern and subtle through this intimate story, rather than make a film just about it.
Is Lea Seydoux’s character in the film supposedly your alter ego?
Not really. When I cast Lea Seydoux for this role it was because I wanted to dive into fiction. I really wanted to make a film with Lea Seydoux. She has an incredible filmography and has such a magnetic physical presence. What I find extraordinary with her is the paradox she embodies. She has a simplicity, a restrained nature that’s reminiscent of Robert Bresson’s characters, and at the same time she’s a world-famous, glamorous star. When I film her in “One Fine Morning,” I see her magnetic charm and at the same she adapts herself completely to this role; she has this purity and her acting is stripped of all artifice. She also has inexhaustible source of mystery and sadness within her that very few actresses have. She’s the greatest actresses of her generation.
How is it for you to be in Cannes two consecutive years? Your previous film “Bergman Island” was in competition, and you’re now at Directors’ Fortnight.
This year is very different. Last year was particular because we were still in the middle of COVID, and now we have the feeling that things are picking up. A lot more people are here. Over at Directors’ Fortnight, there’s a festive atmosphere which I love, but the war in Ukraine is on our minds, in my mind, so I have an ambivalent feeling towards this festive aspect. It’s moving for me to return to Directors’ Fortnight where I presented my first film “Tout est pardonné,” which was about a father-daughter relationship, while this one is about a daughter grieving her father. It’s as if a loop has been closed. And I also appreciate the fact that Paolo Moretti had selected my film “Maya” at his festival at La Roche-sur-Yon and has been very enthusiastic about “One Fine Morning.” But I was also very happy to have “Bergman Island” compete last year. Cannes is always a challenge for me because I’m very shy, I don’t feel comfortable being under the spotlight. Since my films are always personal I feel twice as exposed. If I could have a lookalike attend for me I’d be happy.
What do you think about the discussion over the dearth of female directors in competition?
It’s clear that the competition isn’t dazzling for its track record with female directors. We’d like to see more of them in 2022. Sometimes, there’s an impression, from the outside, that the competition is reserved to male directors, and Un Certain Regard is for women. I’ve heard that I was considered a Cannes regular, but that’s not accurate. Cannes has refused three out of four films directed by me. I hadn’t been in Cannes in 12 years when I presented “Bergman Island” in competition. The last time was with “Le père de mes enfants,” which played at Un Certain Regard.
How did you like working in English with international stars like Tim Roth on “Bergman Island,” and how was it to follow up with “One Fine Morning,” a more intimate film set in France?
I’ve never felt drawn by Hollywood sirens and to me, making a film with Hollywood stars is not a progress in itself. It was just refreshing to shoot outside of France, in Sweden, with different actors, and then return to France with a very local film and shoot in a retirement home where my own dad lived. I like to venture into the unknown, break away from habits, take risks and explore different worlds like Claire Denis. It stimulates me and also fulfills me.
What are you working on now?
I have a series project about the life of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, the trailblazing Swiss adventurer and writer. I’m not attracted by the format of series, I don’t even own a TV and I’m of the few people who continue to go to the movie theaters. But it’s a project that would only work in a series format, not in a film. I’ve been passionate about Annemarie Schwarzenbach for 15 years. She’s become like a sister or a cousin. After “One Fine Morning,” I’d love to come out of familial grounds and portray this woman, who was so strong, so courageous, and also vulnerable. She was a sort of icon, but she remained in the shadow and she self-destructed. I haven’t written a line yet, but I’m going to start soon.
Do you think this series could interest a streaming service?
I doubt it. And for me, the “alpha and omega” is the freedom. I wouldn’t be able to make this series if I don’t feel completely free during the writing process and filming.
Are you being actively courted to make films or series in the U.S.?
I receive scripts that aren’t good or too conventional. Female directors who have films play at major festivals like Cannes or New York are very hotly courted. In principle, I’d love to work off of someone else’s script to escape the painful experience of having to write my own. But the scripts I read tend to be very literal, demonstrative in their approach to feminism; it’s often very caricatural and lacks nuance. So I prefer to hold on to my sense of integrity and be back in front of a white page. Integrity is a value that was at the core of Ingmar Bergman’s work, and that’s one of the things that I have admired the most with him. He was loyal to his demons.