A singular voice in contemporary cinema always treading her own path, Mia Hansen-Løve is going ever further into herself with her new film One Fine Morning. The filmmaker has a candid, honest conversation with Contributing Writer Lillian Crawford about everything that’s got her to this point.
Mia Hansen-Løve has been telling the story of her own becoming since 2007. Her debut feature All Is Forgiven shared the Louis Delluc Prize for Best First Film at Cannes with Céline Sciamma’s Water Lilies, both films difficult to get one’s hands on in the UK. Indeed, the cinema of Hansen-Løve has been an elusive one across her eight features, drifting in and out of British arthouse consciousness without any guarantee of the spotlight. As with many women directors, it’s as if her reputation has to start from scratch every time she brings a new film into the world.
Hansen-Løve’s status shifted with 2021’s Bergman Island, her English-language sojourn starring Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, and Mia Wasikowska, which appeared in the Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Continuing a distribution deal with MUBI, One Fine Morning returns to the filmmaker’s self-reflective series spanning Father of My Children (2009), Goodbye First Love (2011), Eden (2014), and Things to Come (2016). The film stars Léa Seydoux as Sandra Kienzler, a translator whose father Georg (Pascal Greggory) has been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative condition Benson’s syndrome. The film is a catharsis for Hansen-Løve, a way of processing her own father’s decline in health and death during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sitting down with her on her visit to London, I wanted to ask more about her relationship with her parents and the films they have inspired her to make.
Girls on Tops: In One Fine Morning, Sandra sorts through her father’s library and tells her daughter that each book is a touch of colour which makes up his portrait. What portrait does your own bookshelf paint?
Mia Hansen-Løve: They look a bit like the ones Georg has in the film, because he is based on my own father. I haven’t read that many philosophy books, but I do have a lot of books in German because I studied German literature. German books have a different look to French books, they are more colourful. I remember in my kitchen as a child, there was a magnet on the fridge with a quote from Cicero, that “a room without books is like a body without a soul”. I still believe that. It was something that was given to me from childhood, because my parents were not rich, they were teachers, but the one richness in our apartment was their books. I was aware of the value of books from a very early age. Not in terms of economic value, but of real value in what they can bring me. Half of the books were in German, which is why I wanted to study the language because I wanted to be able to read my father’s books because they were telling me about his history. I knew it was how I could connect with him.
In the credits of One Fine Morning, you cite one of your father’s pieces of writing, ‘La Ballade en Maladie Rare’. Were you finding new writing as you were going through his books?
My father wrote extremely well. My mother, my brother, and I would tell him that he had to write a book, a novel, to write about his childhood in Vienna and the suicide of his father, which was the central tragedy of my family. My father would say that he would write about it one day, but he never did. But I saw how great a writer he was in his philosophy lessons and his letters, even the way he expressed himself in his notebooks. But he never did it. When I grew up, I told myself that the reason why I became a director and started writing scripts was to fill this void. I wanted to accomplish what my father had not been able to accomplish, like somehow I’m his voice.
Is that also true of your mother? In Things to Come, Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), based on your mother, is concerned about losing the exact copies of the books that she has, because they have her notes in them.
In some ways. My parents are extremely different. My father is not here anymore. My mother is still alive, and she’s extremely active. She’s 73 and still writing books, still a teacher, still going to youth climate protests, just like Nathalie in the film. I admire her a lot for her energy. The one thing they had in common was philosophy and a love for books. I think I inherited both sensibilities, but both different kinds of love of literature and philosophy. From my father in a more melancholic way, more reserved, more secretive, and my mother in a more positive and energetic relationship to life.
Is that connected to your use of music? The placement is so precise – the Schubert sonata in One Fine Morning is beautifully chosen, especially in the transitions of diegesis in and out of Sandra’s head. How do you conceive of music in relation to your films?
When I write a film, I usually have up to four songs in mind from the start. These songs are with me during the whole process and sometimes even during shooting and editing. It’s a problem, actually, because usually when I end up using them in the film I’ve listened to them so many times that I start to hate them! The music never ends up there by accident. They give me some kind of direction or reassurance. It’s part of the inner world of the film. Schubert, in the case of One Fine Morning, was there from the start. I don’t work with composers, I only use pre-existing music which I have a history with.
The example you gave, of the Schubert we hear in Sandra’s head, is part of the relationship between silence and language in my films. You have scenes where people talk a lot, but you also have long stretches of silence. In many films, music is there all the time, but it’s under the surface, it’s not really meant to be listened to. Whereas in my films, when you have music it’s part of the scene, almost like an actor itself. The music comes almost as a reward after a long period of silence.
Those silences give the characters, and the audience, a break from the intensity of the situation. Escapism is an integral part of your cinema, characters often run away somewhere, although Sandra can’t do that in One Fine Morning. That was particularly the case in Maya, set in India. What place does that film have for you in your filmography?
A particular place, for sure. It’s a film that people look at as my less autobiographical film because it’s about a war reporter recovering from months of isolation as a hostage. My grandfather was a war reporter, but it was still a different story. I identify with that character as much as Sandra, however, but it connects with quite a difficult moment in my life where for totally different reasons I also felt the need to escape and reinvent myself far away. A film can be extremely personal in many different ways, sometimes as obvious autobiography and sometimes in a way that’s much more transposed. There's something a little bit painful about Maya to me. I was in some difficulties and the film became an escape while I was trying to heal from something.
Bergman Island was very similar in that sense, which you were making at the same time as One Fine Morning, a return to your earlier autobiographical style. It feels like you’ve gone out and then come back again. Where to next?
If I could just choose, I would do Bergman Island again and again because it’s my dream film. Maybe each director has that, the film that you would really want to keep making forever because of the pleasure it brought you. Being on that island and filming, escaping but exploring cinema while I was escaping from my everyday life in Paris. And in this paradise of an open space. That’s the one film that I would love to go back to. But I can’t, because I cannot just choose what I’m working on or what inspires me. I think I’m at the end of whatever I started making with my first picture, I think I ended it with One Fine Morning. I’m now working on a very different project, a period film, so something really different from anything I’ve done before. We’ll have to wait and see.
Lillian Crawford is a freelance critic and Contributing Writer at Girls On Tops.
One Fine Morning is out in UK cinemas via MUBI now. Shop our MIA HANSEN-LØVE t-shirt here.