'Things to Come'
Shortly after headlining Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Elle‘, Isabelle Huppert returns in a far softer mode with ‘Things to Come’, yet is no less impressive. The latest film by Mia Hansen-Love (‘Eden’) is another delicate social observation piece about how lives and people change so quickly and quietly it’s often hard to pick up on what happened.
‘Things to Come’ is a subtle film without any of the shock-and-awe tactics employed in the other Huppert movie playing on competing screens. Collectively, they prove just how gifted an actress the French veteran truly is. This is the first time Mia Hansen-Love has made anything resembling a star picture designed to showcase the gifts of a specific performer, and the results work well enough that it hopefully won’t be her last.
The film hangs on Huppert’s shoulders for a year in the life of an academic. Her character Nathalie has been married to a fellow philosophy teacher, Heinz (André Marcon), for 25 years, and together they’ve parented two grown children between their teaching careers. Just as those kids leave the nest, Heinz announces that he’s leaving Nathalie for his mistress. Obviously, that doesn’t go over well with Nathalie. It also comes at a time that isn’t exactly convenient (not that these things ever are). She’s been struggling to publish her work lately, and her elderly mother (Edith Scob) is both unwell and needy. Meanwhile, a favorite student from her past re-enters her life just in time to announce that he’s about to drop out of society to join an anarchist collective in the mountains. For someone who has already dedicated her adult life to philosophy, this is definitely a period for reflection.
This is an almost aggressively French film in form and content. The comforts of bourgeois life turn into a nightmare. The characters do a lot of wandering around having difficult chats. Plenty of open philosophizing and pretty pictures pop up too. Thankfully however, Hansen-Love’s approach isn’t one of dreary self-satisfied pretension. An art house auteur the filmmaker might be, but she’s just as much interested in the rambling realities of life as pounding home cinematic subtext. The film unfolds almost casually in intent, following around Nathalie like a thoughtful observer and allowing the small moments that make up her life to gradually pile up into something substantial enough to be a movie. It’s not a film of grand gestures and speeches, but rather sneaks up on viewers with import and impact.
Huppert is of course spectacular in the lead role, crumbling internally beneath a strong façade. She’s as chilly as has become her trademark, but has more warmth and humanity to reveal than one might initially assume. A current of humor slips through her role as well, allowing the actress to show off many of her talents. It’s a wonderful performance that might not be as immediately striking as her work in ‘Elle’, because it’s less showy and aggressive (i.e it’s not a Paul Verhoeven movie), but the role has more subtle beauty, humanity and intelligence that make a convincing case for Huppert being one of the finest actresses currently working.
Everyone surrounding Huppert is equally strong and are given the chance to flesh out their characters in small and meaningful ways. Hansen-Love’s gift for creating worlds full of carefully crafted people is on display, even if this is a quieter and less ambitious picture than her other recent works.
As you may have gathered, ‘Things to Come’ is a quietly contemplative European character study. Mia Hansen-Love’s movies are designed primarily for the type of quiet, introspective viewers who like to talk about esoteric subtitled movies over coffee and tears. Her latest should suit that crowd just fine provided that they’re in the mood for something small and subtle that never announces its ambitions too overtly. Oh, and an adorable cat gets worked in as a substantial character, so that might help with the heart melting in more obvious ways.