In cinemas nationwide now.
It’s difficult to think of a performance in recent years more complete than that of Isabelle Huppert in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come. In a film of relative narrative simplicity, she portrays a character of real emotional complexity.
Huppert plays Natalie, a Parisienne academic and lecturer. Natalie has spent so much of her life engaged on a purely intellectual level that when her husband of twenty-five years leaves for another woman and her eccentric mother (Edith Scob) begins to ail alarmingly, she finds herself adrift on a wave of unfamiliar feelings.
These manifest as a constant ebb and flow of low-level harassment. Natalie is spiky and brittle; always ready with a swift insult or a huff of frustration. On some level, it is unsurprising that when the structures of her life collapse she finds herself without any real confidante who will lend a shoulder to cry on. She has a complicated relationship with Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a former student who is now an academic in his own right, and whose work has diverged from Natalie’s teachings. There are perhaps hints of some romantic frisson between the two, but they stay completely internalised, and their conversations remain solidly discursive, and densely philosophical. Hansen-Løve resists any easy contrivances such as a new romance, instead embracing the uncertainties of Natalie’s situation and avoiding easy resolutions.
Things to Come is an unashamedly intellectual work. It deals with its themes of loss, ageing, and uncertainty using the philosophical language and glossary of its characters. It assumes a certain level of familiarity with the work of certain writers and doesn’t hold the hand of the audience. That’s not to say it’s a cold, austere work. Far from it. The emotional core is teased out through subtext and Huppert’s expressive yet subtle performance. Hansen-Løve writes and directs with the wisdom and compassion of a late-period master. That she is a mere thirty-five and very much at the beginning of her career is dazzling. Her Golden Bear for best director at the Berlin Film Festival was richly deserved.
There will be many who will be put off by the film, perhaps seeing it as yet another elitist, impenetrable French art house bore riddled with first-world problems. It is true that French cinema depicts the upper middle-class in a way that British film simply doesn’t but Things to Come is a deceptively warm, very human work with a brilliant director and wonderful actor in perfect symbiosis.