Things To Come (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye) Running Time: 102 minutes approx.
Isabelle Huppert, one of France’s greatest exports, is known for her choice of roles that defy convention – formidable, uncompromising and emotionally complex women appear to be her speciality. One trope which is a rarity among this incredible portfolio of unique characters is that of the sympathetic wife and mother. Can this reputed intense actress pull off such an atypical role?
Huppert plays Nathalie, intellectual, published academic and philosophy teacher, married for twenty-five years to teenage love and fellow tutor Heinz (André Marcon) and mother to two near adult children Chloé (Sarah Le Picard) and Johann (Solal Forte). Nathalie also has to contend with her dramatic ailing mother Yvette (Edith Scob), a former model and actress now living a confused life with her overweight cat Pandora.
One day Heinz admits to Nathalie that he is leaving for her for a new love and with her kids both having left home, for the first time in her adult life Nathalie is on her own. Yvette’s condition gets gradually worse, leaving Nathalie to take in a cat she is allergic to, and the publishing company wants to revamp her philosophy texts to make them more appealing to today’s youth, which she is against.
Were this a conventional drama, Nathalie would be crumbling under the emotional strain of this convergence of troubles, yet, true to her philosophical bent, she takes this unravelling of her life in her stride, attacking one problem at a time in her own inimitable way. Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve based Nathalie on her own mother, including the separation from her father, which may explain the unique route the story takes.
Nathalie’s indomitable spirit and forthright attitude has not in any way been dampened by domesticity and motherhood, putting the marital relationship on an even keel. Early in the film, a group of students are holding a protest and preventing others from entering the school but Nathalie has the wit and experience to dismantle their argument with a single quip and gain access for her class.
Similarly, rejecting the ideas of the publishers to turn her philosophy thesis into a garishly covered reference book show Nathalie is also a stubborn mule when it comes to how certain things should be presented, believing the commercialising and modernising of her work makes a mockery of it.
The most pressing clash of ideals comes courtesy of Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a former student turned writer whose own philosophical beliefs counter everything Nathalie taught him. Fabien becomes a regular fixture in Nathalie’s post-split life but over time the divide in their views widens, with Nathalie wondering if Fabien had learned anything from her, his driving force being creating a revolution and not simply causing people to think.
Being a young handsome chap who idolises Nathalie and whom she favours as a student turned friend, it would be expected that some sort of sexual frisson would form between them, resulting in a possible, and perhaps mistaken, one night stand and/or doomed romance. Instead Hansen-Løve completely eschews such predictability and has Nathalie embrace this “freedom” she has for the first time in her adult life.
Aside from an undesirable man forcing himself on Nathalie at the cinema, she has no physical contact with a male nor is there even a hint of a new love interest; as long as she has her books and her teaching job, she is fine. Nathalie openly ridicules the idea of getting back into the dating game, from which we infer a message of empowerment for spurned women to get their lives back on track before letting another man into it.
This is a story about change and the willingness to embrace it. The original French title translates to “the future” but the English alternative is more forward looking, implying what lies ahead can be full of positivity and exciting fresh starts rather than beholden to the past. The philosophical theme isn’t incidental either, dissertations from the greatest thinkers forming the basis for Nathalie’s indefatigable quest for solo fulfilment.
Hansen-Løve uses books as visual motif beyond the comfort they provide Nathalie and the link between her and the world around her. When Heinz moves out of the family home taking his books, the shelves that were once heaving are now half empty, random volumes fallen on their side through lack of support. This stark visual is a replacement for the half empty wardrobe or the now spacious double bed found in regular dramas.
When staying with Fabien and some friends in the country, it is the latter’s collection of books that have inspired him to produce his anonymous anti-establishment works that forces the widening issue of disparity in their beliefs. Later, at Christmas after Chloé gives birth, Nathalie presents her grandchild with a series of starter book of the great modern philosophers.
This might make Nathalie sound like an oddball character but she really isn’t, just one set in her ways, nor is she a luddite either. In a refreshing change to the Bridget Jones types who define themselves by their romantic successes, Nathalie is in charge of herself and proves that can she sail whatever waters lie ahead without a male navigator beside her.
As Hansen-Løve had Isabelle Huppert in mind when she wrote the script, this inspiration is rewarded by a typically engaging and nuanced performance from the venerated actress. Note perfect in every scene, this is as close as Huppert gets in terms of a conventional trope yet suffuses Nathalie her own distinct sense of mystique, reflected in the character’s intelligence, warmth and strong sense of self belief.
In Things To Come, Hansen-Løve has made arguably her most accessible film to date whilst staying true to her socially reflective leanings. The message is positive and inspiring for separated women although for audiences not used to lack of overt drama and oblique endings, this might be somewhat obfuscated.
A smart if occasioanlly rambling drama elevated by Isabelle Huppert’s mesmerising lead performance.
2.0 Stereo LPCM
5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
Rating – ****
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