Things to Come, 2016.
Directed by Mia Hansen-Love.
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Roman Kalinka, Andre Marcon and Edith Scob.
A philosophy teacher soldiers through the death of her mother, getting fired from her job, and dealing with a husband who is cheating on her.
In Things To Come, French national treasure Isabelle Huppert stars as Nathalie, a philosophy lecturer with a cosy life, two grown-up children and an equally academic life. Protests and boycotts are rife at her university, in which she has no interest in either taking part or debating, despite her students’ earnest statements of outrage. Her distance extends to professional encounters with her publishers, at whom she balks when presented with new, “exciting” covers to her well-regarded (if poor-selling) textbooks.
Over the next few years we watch Nathalie’s comfortable, somewhat hermetic life crumble as she faces divorce, the death of a dependent elderly parent and the flourishing of her children’s lives. Forced to look elsewhere for stimulation and companionship, she reconnects with a former student and begins holidaying at his communal, anarchist-populated cabin in the country. The screenplay wisely omits any romantic involvement between Nathalie and her pupil; including any such melodrama would undermine both the character and the themes at work in Things To Come. Instead the film presents its lead with many different ways of living, never suggesting that one is better than the other – only that choosing is better leaving it to fate.
Nathalie is confident but complacent, generous and encouraging but resistant to change, and over the course of the film Eden director Mia Hansen-Løve steadily takes apart her life before reassembling it in a new form. It’s an unhurried, gently affecting story of middle age and mortality that accepts the natural chaos of life, and it probably won’t be for everyone; the leisurely pace and quiet, nearly always implicit drama may lull less patient viewers into thinking that there really is nothing going on.
But Things To Come is a film of delayed pleasures, building up small tensions and releasing them one by one late into the running time. Hansen-Løve presents all this with the steady confidence of a veteran storyteller who knows she doesn’t need flash or style to compel audiences – just a beguiling character (and a world-class actor to portray her) and a background filled with rich evidence of a life both lived and in transition. The supporting characters (and their mouth-watering bookcases) all offer unique reflections of Nathalie’s situation, subtly presented by Huppert in a fluid performance that is at once effortlessly charming yet comfortably familiar. Things To Come gives voice to ideas, feelings and an emotional depth often unexplored in cinema, and as a novelistic expression of transition and mortality, it’s well worth reading.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★