Things to Come
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Opens December 2
A perceptive drama about big changes at middle age, the writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s deceptively modest fifth feature, Things to Come, follows a philosophy professor as she faces a series of personal and professional upheavals. Over the course of the film, which earlier this year won the 35-year-old Hansen-Løve a best-director prize at Berlin, Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) suddenly separates from her fellow-philosopher husband of 25 years (André Marcon), grows apart from her intellectual protégé (Roman Kolinka), and edges perilously close to getting dropped by her longtime publisher—all while trying to help fend off the suicidal depression of her elderly mother (Edith Scob). But the ceaseless turning of the calendar brings Nathalie something other than just grief and uncertainty: a reassuring sense of continuity. She manages to keep moving from one appointment to another, continues the teaching and thinking she finds fulfilling, and eventually even becomes a grandmother.
To be sure, Huppert has had a remarkable year, playing off her own on-screen persona (in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love), bringing to life a character who’s effectively a structuring absence (in Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs), and profiling a murkier psychology altogether (in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, cited along with Things to Come in her New York Film Critics Circle win yesterday). Her work in Things to Come is perhaps most notable for its understatement and its offhand precision, its emotional dynamics that are far more pianissimo than forte. She’s particularly interesting to watch as she receives bad news. “I thought you’d love me forever,” Nathalie says to her husband after he informs her he’s moving out, though there’s also more ready-made resolve than shock visible on her face as she says it. Deep down, perhaps she’s not quite as crestfallen in this moment as we are for her.
Hansen-Løve, who begins Things to Come somewhat ominously with a visit to a coastal grave that appears ready to fall into the sea (that of the author François-René de Chateaubriand, to be exact), has long been preoccupied by the process of mourning. Her films Father of My Children (2009) and Goodbye First Love (2011)—the former about a sudden death in the family and the latter about the end of a formative romance—mapped the continually switchbacking path from loss to recovery. Things to Come essentially continues that project, privileging intimately awkward moments over more overtly dramatic confrontations, but it displays an even sharper eye for verisimilar yet expressive minutiae: One of the film’s best sequences finds Huppert tramping along a muddy beach in search of an elusive cell signal, barely staying upright through the de facto quicksand (though her call drops anyway). By degrees, Nathalie’s entire day-to-day becomes a sort of balancing act as she tries to reconcile her feelings of abandonment with the dawning realization that she has also, in a sense, been liberated. There is, finally, something quite moving in her relative equanimity: However turbulent the present becomes, she knows it’s also what’s moving her forward.