Things to Come (2016) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for thematic material and language
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Andre Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte
Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Screenplay: Mia Hansen-Love
Review published December 10, 2016
At its essence, Things to Come examines that period in life which is on the verge of change in the lives of many people in their later middle age, a time when the kids are grown up and have moved on out of the house, when parents are ailing or have passed on, or those who are in those years are planning for their lives ahead once retirement comes upon them. It's usually a time following a life that has been free of major changes, as people have learned what they can in school, have settled on a career and who they will love and build a family with, and have grown into their social circles and extracurricular activities that will define them. In other words, it's the last period for normalcy before the those who are advancing in years have to think about what they're going to do for the rest of their lives in retirement, which is something they haven't had to think of since their youths.
Isabelle Huppert (Louder Than Bombs, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) stars as philosophy professor Nathalie Chazeaux, having lived a comfortable life for many years in her job, in her marriage, and in her home life. Her children have grown and moved away, but she still needs to take some care, mostly of her mother (Scob, Gemma Bovery) Yvette, who is suffering from dementia and bouts of depression that has her threatening suicide on occasions when left alone too long, requiring looking into assisted living to support. The college in which Nathalie teaches is also undergoing some tumult of late, as students have taken to protests because of the uncertainty of their futures, both academically and politically. A but more change occurs in Nathalie's life when Fabien (Kolinka, Love Crime), an activist who was once one of her former students, reconnects with her, finding a bond with each other as they go through some more trials in their personal lives. Pushed out of her comfort zone with setbacks both personal and professional, Nathalie has to re-evaluate herself in a way she hasn't had to since the time of her youthful independence.
Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love (Eden, Goodbye First Love), herself the daughter of two philosophy professors (who, perhaps not coincidentally, divorced when she was in her twenties), Things to Come is a non-judgmental character study of an intellectual woman whose passion for truth and philosophy supersedes many of her other loves, including for her husband (Marcon, Marguerite). She has published textbooks that are highly esteemed, but they haven't result in many sales. Her book publisher wants to make some cosmetic changes to her textbook in order for it to stand out among the other boring books on the shelf, but Nathalie will have none of it, as she feels it completely rails against everything she has fought so hard to achieve.
As with just about every film in which she appears, Isabelle Huppert is commanding, offering a three-dimensional portrait of a calm and collected woman trying to traverse the tightrope of emotions while every piece of her life begins to change in drastic ways. Her rational thought, though, is what guides her, not given to bouts of emotion, save for such occasions as when someone has removed valued, personally annotated texts from great philosophers from her personal library without her consent. Whether looking happy, annoyed, or deeply disturbed, Huppert can turn emotions on a dime to give a richly nuanced performance that brings her character to life in a very authentic way. This is a woman who lives for free thought, finding much more value in her intellectual pursuits, which she says is enough to sustain her, though that can only be a temporary respite from the rest of her life coming to a void.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Nathalie finds value in her gardening, methodically sowing the literal seeds to what has become a lovely spot at the family's summer home, though all of her figurative seeds have begun to stop bearing fruit, and even her real garden becomes something for which she can no longer find responsibility. She comments in a most cynical moment that, "After 40, women are fit for the trash," implying that her romantic life will be over, because she won't seek an older man and could never live with a younger one, though she also feels that there's more to life to sustain her needs. What she soon discovers is that there is a reason to live and love things again, filling the void with new desires and pursuits; as the title implies, it is the anticipation of things to come that draws out one's emotional fulfillment.
Her character, who processes troubles through thinking through them rather than feeling, finds deeper connection to others who feel the same, namely Fabien, to whom she is seen as a mentor, though she does come to feel a certain revulsion on the extent to which he thinks rather than feels, resulting in an anarchist position, as evidenced by her dismay in finding the "Unabomber Manifesto" among his books in his library at the commune he currently calls home. She can turn off emotions just as quickly, just as when her husband, who has been on the outs, suggests that he has no Christmas plans, and she seems to no longer care at all about the fact that he might spend the holidays alone. "I'm lucky to be fulfilled intellectually," is the strength she needs to get by when things begin to fall apart around her from an emotional standpoint.
Much like the heroine at the heart of Hansen-Love's humanist picture, Things to Come is not fraught with emotional melodrama, proceeding forward despite its turbulence in a manner that is capable and functional even when the chips seem down. However, despite all of the admirable qualities, I suppose it is a bit ironic that I did not find a good deal of the story to be truly compelling beyond the impeccable acting and the more evocative aspects of the thematic underpinnings. In other words, I find Huppert much more fascinating to watch playing Nathalie than I do in anything within the character of Nathalie herself.
I praise Hansen-Love for her ability to construct nuanced characters and to draw out naturalistic conversations, enough to give her film a recommendation, but I hesitate to lavish a rave upon a film where I struggle to find enough interest in those very same characters and conversations to feel I would want to spend ninety-plus minutes with them but for the sake of this review.
©2016 Vince Leo