Things to Come (2016)
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cinematographer: Denis Lenoir
Producer: Charles Gillibert
by Jon Cvack
Things to Come is the third film I’ve seen from Mia Hansen-Løve (following Goodbye First Love (2011) and The Father of My Children (2009)) , and unfortunately the last one available on Netflix. The story involves a philosophy professor Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) who’s on the verge of releasing an updated edition to her book of essays. Nathalie is a woman who looked like she was gorgeous about ten or fifteen years ago; now pushing into her late 50s/early 60s and grasping that her best years - both physically and intellectually - may be behind her.
Nathalie’s bipolar mother Yvette Lavastre (Édith Scob) has a similar degree of former sexiness, despite being at least twenty years Nathalie’s senior. Lately she’s been falling to psychotic breakdowns; calling Nathalie to come by her house, and if Natalie doesn’t answer, calling the fire department immediately after. She’s soon forced to enter the hospital, where the episodes take a toll on the nursing staff.
Nathalie also has an attractive ex-student Fabien (Roman Kolinka) who since graduating has joined an anarchist community, in which he and others his age, including a couple and their kid, plan to form a radical faction with the intent of ushering in a new revolution. Nathalie mentions how she admired his writing, wondering if he’d be interested in contributing to her new anthology while encouraging him to finish up his Phd.
Nathalie’s husband Heinz (André Marcon) is also a philosophy professor, specializing in anarchy, and having influenced much Fabien’s thinking, currently cheating on Nathalie with a younger woman. One day, their pregnant daughter confronts Heinz about the affair, demanding he tell her mom. He does, and without theatrics or grand exchanges, but rather through the conscious controlled rage which a moral philosophy professor would hope to profess, Nathalie breaks it off. A is A, what’s done is done, and that’s all there is to it.
Forced to care for her ailing mother, and now living alone in a half empty apartment, Nathalie decides to visit Fabien’s compound, deep in the beautiful countryside. The fantasy is so clear and yet it operates within a perfect logic - Fabien is young and idealistic, hoping to usher in a utopian society, and living up to Marx’s declarations to change the world, while Nathalie is content studying the continental concepts of beauty, love, and art. It separates them more than their ages, but still there’s a fantasy that it could work.
While this plot alone could have been a film, Mia knows masterfully avoids any chance of melodrama. She removes the magnifying glass that we’d so often see in these types of films. Of a woman scared to suffer the same fate as her mother does; hoping for one last romance, all while watching everything in her life crumble away. Isabelle Huppert does a magnificent job of portraying both contentment, excitement, and fear. There is philosophy discussed, but the film seems much more interested in how a philosophy professor - with all their knowledge and wisdom - would respond to the fact that life is darkening bit by bit. At other times, abruptly.
In the closing image we watch Nathalie hold her grandson, singing him to sleep. There are cozy Christmas decorations and her son-in-law and daughter and their friend are all there, and while we’re unsure how they feel, Nathalie is content. For now.
It’s a good film and I’m not sure how much better it could have been, and yet it left me feeling a bit uneasy. As the years race by and yearly traditions seem to repeat themselves with staggering speed, a film like this makes me see how close we all are to the end and that most of life isn’t all that exciting or thrilling. Even the events that should be.
BELOW: A fitting, non-spoiled ending
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