For Mia Hansen-Løve, the 2022 Cannes Film Festival marked a few returns. A year on from premiering Bergman Island, Hansen-Løve screened One Fine Morning, the director’s first to be set in her native Paris since 2016’s Things to Come. How did it feel to be back? “Very different, but in a nice way. Much more relaxed,” she explained in a small office in Unifrance’s temporary headquarters just a few days after the debut. “Not being in competition, it’s easier. I mean, it’s great to be in competition, but it’s so much stress.” And Paris? “No. [Laughs] I miss Faro—I can’t tell you how much!”
Starring Léa Seydoux (wonderful in an uncharacteristic role) as a single mother tasked with finding care for her ailing father and bringing up her daughter while, of course, starting an affair, One Fine Morning is another calming, sun-kissed work of auto-fiction from the filmmaker, who lost her own father just a few years previously. “He had been sick, suffering from a neurodegenerative disease that he had for several years before he died. When I wrote the film he was still alive, but I had been living with these questions related to his disease for some years and I needed to try to find a meaning to it. I think making the film was a way for me to kind of overcome this.”
The Film Stage: I’ve always loved your line about your cinema being like a house, and each new film like adding a level or a room. I thought about this while watching One Fine Morning. Is this story particularly close to your heart?
Mia Hansen-Løve: Yes, very much. I mean, all my films are equally personal. Even though some of them look closer to my autobiography than others, in the end they are equally personal, because it’s just the only way I know how to write. But this one, I don’t know if it’s the most autobiographical. I’m not sure about the definition of autobiography—there are tons of things here that are different in my life—but it’s the one that is the most frontally autobiographical, I would say. Not so much because of the information, but about the moments I was going through and what I made with them.
Was it a kind of catharsis?
All of my films are about that, one way or another: about catharsis or a quest for meaning or a meditation about life. Somehow, why I make films—to me—is to find a way to live better, to accept life better, and so I try to make films which are truthful to my experience of life, that don’t cheat with the cruelty of life, but at the same time I’m trying to go towards some kind of light. I’m looking for light when I make films. It’s always been like this so far and I don’t think that will change because of my work.
We’ve seen a number of films that focused on these diseases in recent years. Were any on your mind?
No, on purpose I didn’t watch any of them. I didn’t watch Ozon’s film or The Father and I didn’t watch Gaspar Noé’s film. These three films I didn’t want to watch because I was worried that in one way or another they would be destabilizing. I wanted to really focus on my own, you know? I think about the one thing that I want to say. There are some directors who love to watch a lot of other films when they write films or read books that nourish their writing. For me, it’s more like the reverse. The moment when I start writing I tend to avoid any influences.
What was behind the decision to return to Paris?
I had to film these hospitals and these old persons’ homes, these places that have just been part of my life. I actually filmed in the places where my father was, so I knew these places very well. I knew these specific rooms. But it wasn’t fun at all. It wasn’t funny. Bergman Island was a much funnier film to do, obviously. But I just had to do it, you know?
I had some kind of fun, and that’s what’s magic about films: that you can make films about very cruel, difficult, awful things, painful things, and still have fun because you love the work. Even if you film things that are inspired by painful moments, the fact that we reinvent them, re-stage them, it transforms your relationship to these moments.
Turning all this into a fiction is so liberating to me. But I mean: of course I would have preferred to shoot, you know, on the beach in a nice place, but there was no way. I mean, I had to do this film in this fucking hospital, you know, during COVID, which led to, like, eight interruptions of shooting. We started in June and we ended in February. Léa and I both had COVID twice.
I was going to ask about the hospitals. They were open to allowing you to shoot there?
I think it helped me, actually. At that time the hospitals were very careful because of the sanitary situation. The fact that I went to the hospitals where my father actually was, and where they all remembered him, I think it opened some doors for me and made me feel at ease, too. I mean, I knew these places. I had some kind of intimacy with these places. I think that, in many ways, helped me filming them.
Léa is such a great fit for your style of filmmaking. Had you ever tried to cast her before?
No. I’ve been loving her for a long time and, of course, I was hoping to work with her someday, but it really depended on the character for me. Like, I cannot decide to write a film for an actress. I would not do that. I don’t know how to do that. I was lucky that there was suddenly this spot where it made sense to ask her. I find her a great actress: she has strength but she’s very sensitive, and in a very original way because she’s restrained and she keeps within herself, but there is a vulnerability. She has this incredible direct connection to her emotions that I find quite unique.
What excited me about asking her was that while I found her incredible in her previous roles, the characters were very sophisticated. They were characters that were very far from who she is, with a lot of artifice, very glamorous and dressed, like, in disguise. That all has to do, I think, with the fact that she represents some kind of masculine fantasy. She has often embodied a male director’s desire or fantasy. I say that without criticism because that’s part of cinema too. It’s what I thought was so interesting about this film, for my film but also for her: that we were presenting her in a very different way.
How did you approach that challenge on a practical level? The costuming seems key.
Yes, actors often say that they feel like they’re becoming the character once they try on the clothes. I’ve heard many actors say that and I understand why, and I think it was true in this film for Léa—that once she realized that her character will only be dressed in like sweaters and old jeans, and with nothing too fancy and nothing too sexy, that probably was somehow a little bit frustrating for her. She never asked for more—she totally understood why—but I could feel there was something.
I think for her it was almost like being nude, somehow. It brings to mind a superwoman, a superhero who has certain optics that lend them these superpowers, and it was as if I had taken away those elements that give her the superpowers. Up until now, she’s been so much the embodiment of the male gaze, an object of desire. Of course I’m bringing my own vision of her, my identification with her as a female director; but I think for her the fact that she was presented so differently was destabilizing for her. But I think that it also gave her quite a bit, and it allowed her to express and experience a very different side of her.
One Fine Morning premiered at Cannes Film Festival and will be released by Sony Pictures Classics.