Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Andre Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob.
The fifth feature film from French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love (Father Of My Children, etc), Things To Come is a deeply personal and subtle slice of life drama about a woman caught up in something of a midlife crisis. The film explores some rich and resonant themes about love, loss, abandonment, loneliness, aging, philosophy, love and politics. It is also a character study of a woman on the edge.
Things To Come has been loosely inspired by Hansen-Love’s own mother, a philosophy lecturer. Her fictional counterpart here is Natalie Chazeaux (played by Isabelle Huppert) who experiences a sort of existential crisis. We follow her journey as she holds discussion about changes and updates to her seminal philosophy text book that her long time publishers want to make in order to make the tome more contemporary. She is passionate about her work and resists any such changes. She devotes much of her time to teaching and she cares about her students. She also devotes plenty of time to mentoring one of her former students Fabien (Roman Kolinka, from Eden, etc), a brilliant protégé who is trying to get his own book published. Her needy and bed-ridden mother Yvette (Edith Scob, from Summer Hours, etc) is deteriorating health wise, and her constant bouts of depression or paranoia put demands on her. And then her husband of twenty-five years, and fellow academic, Heinz (Andre Marcon) drops a bombshell when he suddenly announces that he is leaving her for his much younger mistress. And Natalie has been left to care for her mother’s obese black cat named Pandora, even though she is allergic to cats.
As her once idyllic life begins to crumble around her, Natalie has to decide whether she wants to try and put the pieces back together or start over anew. Natalie handles all of the sudden upheavals in her life with a remarkable sense of philosophical detachment.
Things To Come is a gently paced and meandering meditation on the unpredictable nature of heartbreak and life, some of the usual preoccupations that the young filmmaker explores through her movies. The material is shaped by her subtly feminist world view, but there is also an intellectual rigour to the story telling. Hansen-Love directs with restraint, and suffuses the material with a melancholy tone. She maintains a delicate rhythm throughout that is in keeping with the mundane rhythms of everyday life. The film reeks of authentic emotions and characters, and she brings a maturity and depth to the material that feels real and eschews cliche.
There is some great production design here from Anna Falgueres (Eden, etc) that creates the warm but stark and pristine looking environment of Natalie’s home. Things To Come has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Denis Lenoir (who also shot her previous film Eden), and he uses some picturesque locations around Paris and the rural country side to good effect. Despite some darker moments, the film is bathed in bright light and tones, which lends an unexpected warmth to the material.
The film centres around another magnificent performance from Huppert who is on screen for the whole film, apart from one scene. Huppert would have to be one of the best actresses working in film today and rarely phones in her performances. She follows up her complex and emotionally demanding performance in the recent twisted rape drama Elle with a more nuanced, controlled and subtle but layered performance here that teases out character details. This is a more introspective, inward looking performance from Huppert, but she captures Natalie’s brittle and jaded exterior and her vulnerability beautifully, and she gives us a lot of detail about the character without showing too much in the way of outward emotion.
There is very little action in Things To Come, and nothing much of real importance or interest happens in the film, despite the optimistic promise of the title. There are no great revelations or dramatic moments. Typically French, the film is steeped in intellectual discussions about politics, history, philosophy, Rousseau, artistic truth, but very little of it is either engaging or interesting. Things To Come is decidedly art house in manner and style and will not appeal to a mainstream audience. Many in the audience will probably die of boredom before anything remotely interesting happens.