A wonderful and subtly emotional slice-of-life drama
It’s always interesting when a young filmmaker brings a fresh new perspective to material that has been poured over by many a director – with not a single one under 50 coming to mind. The passage of time, applications of philosophy in the world of now and the ability to move on from events and hardships that seem a lifetime ago are just a few bases that director Mia Hansen-Løve covers with her new film Things to Come. These are wise and worldly themes, as important as they are accepted as just a ‘part of life.’ Thankfully, Hansen-Løve, a director of just thirty-five, handles the material with beautiful sincerity, lending an understanding and uncommon warmth to this story of grief and loss.
Isabelle Huppert plays Nathalie Chazeaux, a Philosophy teacher in Paris who begins to find that the world around her is changing more rapidly that she could have anticipated. Just twenty minutes in to the film her job is on the line, her mother’s health is in jeopardy and her relationship with her husband has met a quick death. From here, the film goes in both expected and unexpected directions – gaining a warmth and affection for its characters as it goes on. Huppert, giving an absolutely terrific performance, plays Nathalie as someone who is always in control, no matter how much trouble she faces. She handles these hardships in her own, unique way, never forgetting the human desire to move on. As she says in one of her eloquently delivered class speeches, we must all desire, for it is the hope for happiness that delivers true happiness. As shown in Things to Come, there is no true destination, just the journey itself. Grief never truly vanishes so, in our journey to break free from its shackles, we can find true happiness.
It sounds like quite the heavy load but Things to Come never comes close to collapsing under the weight its own ambitions. It’s a subtly humorous film, an empathetic and warm one and, above all, a truly enjoyable experience. The film is peppered with little touches like Nathalie trudging through a field of mud to find better cell phone service or her humorous trials and tribulations with looking after her mother’s cat, Pandora. Even an extended sequence of her struggle to find a way to throw out a bouquet given to her by her unfaithful husband stands as a hilarious bit of comedic staging. Small moments, to be sure, but in a film made up of small moments, these are integral to the overall experience. Humor is used in the film not as a crutch to fall back on when audience interest is slipping but, rather, to enrich the impact of the story itself.
As said before, Huppert is superb, powering through the proceedings with an incredible assertiveness. Save for a few moments when she unknowingly lets her cracks show, she bares her emotions in just a few private sequences and only to us, the audience. Nathalie finds her own way to move on and, thanks to Løve‘s incredible sense for the passing of time, we are able to move on with her. Indeed, as it has been with her past works, time is Løve’s main subject. Things to Come takes two significant time jumps, both of which are very effective at distilling how momentous the passage of time can feel in our lives. Over the film’s final scene, The Fleetwoods croon: “time goes by so slowly/ and time can do so much.” A sad verse is stripped of its melancholy; instead, it feels like a simple truth. “Can a truth be debated upon?” Nathalie asks her students in an earlier scene. For her, a truth is a truth and that is enough.
Paired up with this look at moving on from hardship is the theme of moving on from the radical nature of youth and settling in to what life has given you. Nathalie’s philosophical teachings are brought back to her and re-iterated at multiple points in the film by students of the present and past. With these words, questions arise within Nathalie, questions as to whether she should simply spread her teachings or actually practice them. It’s interesting to see a film making a case for the importance of teaching of ideals without practice of these ideals but, within the context of Nathalie’s journey, it feels just right. She is the one and only deciding factor in her own story, never feeling powerless in the face of life – what she wants to do, she does. Though it may not seem apparent, by the film’s final shot, we watch as Nathalie finally comes through to the other side of a decisive shift in her life. Thanks to great acting, writing and directing, there’s not a false note in the film.
Mia Hansen-Løve directs Things to Come in a kinetic manner that is surprising given the possible stateliness of the material. Thankfully, her deft hand brings a certain liveliness to a story that may have fallen flat in different hands. Swooping in and out of conversations, her camera pans to show us exactly what we need to see in order to study the faces of each of our characters. Her direction allows for reserved emotion to show at every turn, for her supporting characters to breathe and for Isabelle Huppert to shine. Løve is quite a dynamic filmmaker and it speaks highly to her skill that a ‘slice of life’ story like Things to Come is brimming with, well, life.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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