Things to Come, 2016
Written and Directed by Mia Hansen-Love.
Starring Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, 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.
Life is essentially a card game where you’re kept being dealt new ones long after deciding that you no longer want to play the game. Few people know this more than Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert delivering a powerful Elle companion piece performance built on unbreakable strength) who is having her life snowball on her with multiple hardships. Things to Come (also known as L’avenir) may as well be Midlife Crisis: The French Movie Version, but that doesn’t stop it from being undeniably compelling.
Nathalie juggles a high amount of relationships in her life, ranging from the marital sort which also sees her raising the accompanied two children, teaching philosophy at a University, maintaining a very strong friendship connection with her protégé and former student, and consistent struggles with the Board of Education to preserve a great degree of integrity within the curriculum along with her own personal gallery. Naturally, every single aspect will come to face some form of conflict.
Nearly in every scene, Isabelle Huppert carries the movie on her back, facing the turmoils that arise with just enough armor not to crack under the suffering. Nathalie at one point even confesses that she knew the day would come when her husband would drop her like a bad habit and get cozy with a new flame, stating something along the lines of “to men, all women are disposable after 40”. Those words stung as a male, because deep down it is, unfortunately, true for most of us and a depressing fact of life. Obviously, and thankfully, that case cannot be made for everyone, but it’s a testament to both the forward sight and internal strength of Nathalie, which seeps through facial expressions that could say 1,000 words. Yes, on the award circuit the majority of Huppert’s nominations so far have been for Elle (which is twisted, thought-provoking, completely incredible, and something you should check out immediately), but her performance here is no slouch either and also in the upper echelon of 2016.
She never erupts into a fit of rage, shockingly managing to keep her composure under control throughout even the most distressing of situations. That’s not to say any of the other actors involved are bad or anything; it’s actually quite the contrary. Her selfish, bratty, admittedly sick mother, for example, commits a number of unsavory acts, to which again Nathalie, while annoyed deep down, never lets her emotions get the best of her. And that’s just a taste of all the frustration Nathalie has to contend with; a lesser person would have erupted into Mount Vesuvius. However, the scenarios and scenes have more effect thanks to a complete cast on their game, able to further elevate Huppert.
Amidst all the negativity and uncertainty is the great relief of freedom, which Nathalie also explores. If anything, Things to Come serves as a beautiful reminder that when the chips are down and life won’t stop giving you the s*** end of the stick, there will also always be good things and new happy memories on the way. Self-reflection is a wonderful art, but we are always taking on new experiences every day (even if it seems we have settled into a routine) and using that to evolve into people we never thought we were or could be. For every horrible event that springs up on out of thin air, a joyous one could also be in the making.
It’s not necessarily complicated regarding what themes Things to Come is touching on as a whole, and the duration of it may feel predictable, but it works due to a superbly assembled cast and restraint from director Mia Hansen-Love (Eden) to not transition the proceedings into an onslaught of melodrama. There are some philosophical passages read here and there serving as symbolism for Nathalie’s emotional journey, which works given the context of her profession, although it’s also nothing revelatory. Still, the characters (even all of the unlikable ones) feel real, with the overall story always remaining intriguing grounded familial drama. It’s a potent reminder that nothing is forever and that life rolls on, dealing us new cards (hopefully Aces). Look on the bright side of life and appreciate your surroundings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★