Isabelle Huppert plays 50-something Nathalie – a philosophy teacher, writer and journal editor living and working in present-day Paris – in Things To Come, the latest drama by the talented French writer and director Mia Hansen-Løve. It begins with a subtle and ominous prologue flashback, which hints at future rifts between Nathalie and her husband Heinz (André Marcon); and nearly everything that we see during the next hour or so points to a story that’s about a mid-life crisis. There’s an emphasis on a generation gap and changing attitudes within the field of radical student politics at Nathalie’s college, for example; presumably some teachers who have been in the job for a two or three decades would question their own ongoing relevance in the face of it all. Then there’s the schism that appears to be developing between Nathalie and her niche publishers, who operate out of a philosophy bookshop; a long-standing partnership seems to be under threat because they want to re-design and re-launch her austere-looking textbooks and journals with jazzier, more colourful covers, something that she is opposed to doing. Thirdly, it isn’t a spoiler to reveal that Heinz, who is also an academic, leaves her for another woman, as it’s in the trailer. And also there is the sudden death of a loved one to contend with.
While watching the film at home with family members a few comments where made when Nathalie’s (good-looking) former student Fabien (Roman Kolinka) is introduced into the story. We have been conditioned to an extent by the ghosts of European arthouse past, and so it’s natural to expect that Nathalie will sleep with Fabien at some stage, thereby…I don’t know…reawakening the passion that lies within, or something? Things do seem to be heading that way when she leaves Paris to stay at Fabien’s philosophers’ commune/retreat in the countryside, taking her cat Pandora along for the ride. Yet, rather unusually, this is a film about a woman who discovers that she does not need facilitators – younger men, her teenage children, her husband, her publishers – to help her to adapt to new circumstances or big changes. And, as such, gradually we see (as Nathalie comes to realise herself) that she is not wholly defined by her previous or existing relationships – particularly her marriage – and is instead equipped to deal with any blows that come her way. These are presented and understood as being part of the ebb and flow of life.
There’s no scene in which Nathalie sleeps with Fabien or any other younger man. There are no hyperemotional breakdowns – just a beautifully acted scene on a bus when Nathalie happens to spot her husband and his new paramour walking along in the street. There are no blazing rows with Heinz about custody of the children; in fact we only see the pair discussing the custody of certain cherished books. (In one scene, after Heinz has moved out of the family home, it’s noticable that shelves which were once full suddenly have gaps, but paperbacks and husbands can be replaced in the future.) And, quite honestly, it’s very refreshing that all of this stuff has been left out; Hansen-Løve‘s film is largely free of cinematic marriage-break-up cliché.
Huppert, who is on-screen for the vast majority of the running time, is excellent. The camera stays with Nathalie throughout, tracking her as she walks along the street or as she moves through buildings, only ever letting her wander off within her own apartment at the end, when a kind of domestic peace washes over the film. (There is a certain energy to the camerawork one might not expect, given the subject matter and slow pace.) And Hansen-Løve – who won the Silver Bear for directing at this year’s Berlin Film Festival – has once again crafted a story with a fascinating central character and a world – intellectual circles in Paris and its environs – that seems entirely believable and fully understood. Confident, accomplished filmmaking.
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Written by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Roman Kolinka, André Marcon.
Cinematography: Denis Lenoir.
Editing: Marion Monnier.
Running Time: 101 minutes.