“The future is compromised,” a publisher tells Nathalie, a philosophy professor whose book is going out of print, in the exquisite French film “Things to Come” (2016). But the words, given what she’s undergoing, ripple unto bigger context – and they do for us as well. Like Nathalie, we’ve been enduring so many daily changes in our lives in 2020 – permutations that have happened so quickly that sometimes it’s been hard to process it all. This is why I adored watching this intelligent and measured movie that unfolds in an unassuming and precise way – as it observes a middle-aged woman facing a sea of change and who finds herself questioning everything that she’s built up until this point. It features the world’s greatest actress – Isabelle Huppert – partnering with exemplary filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve. Last night, as I found myself facing my own questioning, their collaboration gave me just the right amount of support.
I should point out that “Things to Come” is funny, rigorous and fulfilling. It was released in the fall of 2016 in tandem with Ms. Huppert’s other extraordinary performance in “Elle” which led her to a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Both works show her range. Her Nathalie is deeply nuanced. Is there a better actor who is able to convey turmoil simmering inside her with simply a look, or by the way she walks through a hallway? There’s one moment in which she just lays on the grass in a park in Paris – the camera panning the gorgeous skies, the wind rustling the tree leaves and eventually resting on her body – and you’re able to understand a whole range of conflicting emotions. I have been a great admirer of Madame Huppert since I saw her in Bertrand Tavernier’s “Coup de Torchon” (1981), and it has been remarkable to see her just get better with time. She’s a fearless and uncompromising presence, and at 67, she’s at the top of her game.
Nathalie is married with two adult children. In her youth, she was a communist, but now feels deradicalized. “Revolution is not my goal,” she tells one of her pupils. “Mine is more humble. To help kids think for themselves.” Before going to class she has to walk through angry students who are protesting the French government’s delaying the retirement age. “I love my job; I’m in no rush,“ she tells them. Her publisher points out that her philosophy textbook used in schools is not selling, and they show her a revamping of its cover to “make it more attractive, less austere.” She rails, “It’s like an ad for M&M’s!” She tends to her depressed mother who used to be a model, and now demands her daughter’s attention late at night threatening suicide attempts. Her husband – a professor himself – announces after 25 years of marriage that he’s leaving her for someone else. “I thought you’d love me forever,” she tells him. “I’m a goddamn idiot!” Her favorite student, Fabien, is now a published author and has built a commune which has anarchist ideas that challenge hers. “I think I’m too old for radicality,” she states. “I’ve been there before.”
“I’m lucky to be fulfilled intellectually — that’s reason enough to be happy,” she states to Fabien. Director Hansen-Løve – working with cinematographer Denis Lenoir – documents the upheavals of Nathalie’s life as everyday happenings. The fluidity of the camera reflects Nathalie’s constant soul searching and processing of the world. There’s a simplicity to everything that we see until we start to understand the cumulative effect – and that Nathalie is also relishing in the growth – like a butterfly shedding its cocoon.
There’s visual lyricism. It all starts with a pilgrimage on a ferry to the resting place of Chateaubriand in the island of Grand Be who before his death requested to be buried facing the water so he could listen to the sound of the sea and the wind. Sensually and committed, the camera will stare at the site and move its gaze with hopefulness towards the horizon. Things that on the surface seem like throwaways, acquire symbolism. Nathalie takes in for a while her mother’s cat – appropriately named Pandora. On a visit to Fabien’s farm, the cat runs away. “She’s never been out,” she exclaims to Fabien. “ She won’t survive.” Her students wisely assure her, “Sure she will. What about instinct?” She will soon after walk up a hill on her own and in a big expanding long shot of the Alps, she will take a deep breath.
“Things to Come” is quite a showcase of Madame Huppert’s strengths. Watch her as she mourns the death of her mom and breaks down in a bus – only to catch a glimpse of her ex-husband with his new love. Only to laugh.
Nathalie: “To think of it….my children are gone, my husband left me, my mom died,” she says. “I’ve found my freedom. Total freedom, I’ve never experienced it. It’s extraordinary.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime, The Criterion Channel, Tubi, Kanopy, FlixFling and Classic. Available to rent on Vudu, Google Play, Apple TV and YouTube.
Written by Mia Hansen-Løve
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka and Édith Scob
Writer and Director Mia Hansen-Løve on Writing
“For me, making films is about questions, not about the answers. I guess that if I would have the answers, I wouldn’t have to write the film at all. When I start writing a film, I do it precisely because I don’t have a solution to something. I write it to find a way out of suffering. I guess that is what you call resolution. Most of the time, there is no happy end to my films, no real solution in terms of scriptwriting, nothing can happen that would fix things. People that are dead, are still dead, people that are gone, are still gone. She can’t be back together with her husband, she can’t have a love story with this young man. You don’t even know if she’s going to meet somebody. You can only hope that she will. But there is something that happens inside of her, something that has to do with the relationship you have with yourself, an inner peace. It has to do with experience, with the way you look at life. And at some point, you feel that the character has found herself. It’s not a matter of being 20, 30, or 50 years old. It’s path that you have to take, though you don’t know how long it will last. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but at some point, you feel that you’ve been freed of something. That is what I’m looking for in my films, because I need that in my life as well. Besides making films, they are also a way for me to have a dialogue with myself, with my life, and very often, they are a way for me to escape my issues and my demons.” (indiewire.com)
Hansen-Løve on Her Partnership with Editor Marion Monnier
Hansen-Løve has worked with the same editor — Marion Monnier — for all of her films…On their partnership, Hansen-Løve has said “my editor and I were very keen on trying to edit films so that when we get into the scene, it feels like the scene had already started. And when we get out of the scene, it feels like we have not let the scene end. It has to do with this idea of having the film literally jump into a scene. There is an expression in French, which actually François Truffaut said about films, which is ‘prendre un train en marche’. It means ‘go on a train while the train is already moving’. And that’s how I try to write and edit my films. To always be jumping in a train that’s already moving.” (indiewire.com)
Hansen-Løve on Creating Characters
“It’s always about how something is said, what is being left out, what lies beneath, there’s always a subtext. I think — compared to other talky films, maybe — there are also long moments of silence. I think it’s about the balance, the feeling that comes from this movement back and forth between dialogue and silence. I never told Isabelle Huppert to walk in a certain way, but I always give a lot of attention to the shoes the actors wear, because it changes the way of walking, and talking, too. It is true that in my films, you’ll see people walking a lot. I was often told I keep filming promenades, people strolling, and while I wasn’t aware of it, it made me realize that portraying people, capturing their presence has to do with thinking, talking, but also with how they look, not just the face, but also how they walk, their gait, how they appear physically, with their entire body. There is a landscape being formed by their presence. I know that it keeps appearing in my films again and again, but I can’t imagine a portrait without seeing the character walking in the street, downstairs, and so on.” (indiewire.com)
Hansen-Løve on Casting Isabelle Huppert
“We had previously worked together and I always found that there was something childishly malicious in her. Of course, there is this tension and this violence that she plays really well, but when we see it in reality she in fact has something a lot more juvenile than her hardness in the films. She interprets with brilliance but for me that’s not all of her—she has that in her, but she is not just that, and that always interests me. Regardless of whether an actor is famous or completely unknown, when I film them I try to show them in a new light. For example, when I filmed Louis-Do de Lencquesaing in ‘Father of My Children’ it was not because of the roles he had played before; it was because I had seen him at a dinner, I had seen him laugh, and I found that he had something shiny about him, he had a prestige, he had something gloomy to him that we already know, but at the same time he had a light there. That’s what interested me with Isabelle—I went looking for the light in her as opposed to the darkness, even though I knew that this dark part, this cruelty that she has that’s extraordinary. She also serves me a lot for the character, which also has this irony, this distance, something harsh. Finally, Nathalie, Isabelle’s character in the film, is very spiritual, so the fact that Isabelle would have this harshness, it really carries a character. With Isabelle this interested us and interested her as well, because she knew that it wasn’t something that she had played recently, to go search for the opening, the tenderness, the softness that we see in her, in all the roles that she has played recently.” (mubi.com)
About Writer and Director Mia Hansen-Løve
Hansen-Løve started out as an actor and as an occasional critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. In her teens, she landed a supporting role in Assayas’s 1999 film “Late August, Early September,” and they’ve been together since she turned 20…(theguardian.com) “I feel like the worst moment of my life until now was really when I was an adolescent: 15, 17, 19.” During those days, she says, her life revolved around “suffering and pain and huge anxieties and obsession with the passing of time”. Luckily, she has her angst-ridden teen years to thank for leading her to working first in front of the camera, as an actress in the films “Late August, Early September” and “Sentimental Destinies,” both directed by Olivier Assayas (now her husband) as well as behind the camera. It was here, as a filmmaker, that she found refuge. “I feel like becoming a filmmaker kind of saved my life,” she says with a sigh of relief. “For me, making films was a way to transform brutal melancholy into active melancholy.” (refinery29.com) A few of her other works include “All Is Forgiven” (2007), “Father of My Children” (2009), “Goodbye First Love” (2011), “Eden” (2014), “Things to Come” (2016), “Maya” (2018) and is currently in post-production on “Bergman Island.”