We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"The future seems compromised." That line, in Mia Hansen-Løve's "Things to Come," is spoken by an editor at a publishing house, explaining to author Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) why her popular philosophy textbook needs some serious revisions, maybe even an entire "re-branding." The words make sense in the practical context, but when telescoped out into the themes of this beautiful film they take on enormous relevance. The future that Nathalie believed in now "seems compromised." Hansen-Løve's gift is in presenting this vast internal journey with elegance and clarity, resisting the urge for scenery-chewing catharsis, and always examining just how much time operates as a force in our lives (whether we acknowledge it or not). In one way or another, Hansen-Løve's films are all about the passage of time.
Nathalie and Heinz (André Marcon), both professors of philosophy at universities in Paris, have been married for 25 years, and have two adult children. There is a comfort in the family dynamic coming from the assumptions of continuity. The kids come over for dinner. No tension swirls beneath the surface. Until one day, Heinz tells Nathalie that he has met someone else and will be moving in with her. The ensuing conversation is not accented by tears being shed or crockery being thrown. Nathalie is shocked and blindsided ("I thought you would love me forever," she says, stunned), but it takes a while for the reality to really sink in. Meanwhile, life, in all its complexity, continues. Time, like the cliched river, keeps rolling on. When Fabien (Roman Kolinka), her former protégé, asks her how she is doing, she says, “It’s not that serious. My life isn’t over. Deep down, I was prepared. I’m lucky to be fulfilled intellectually.” You believe her.
However, life is not just one thing, life is made up of many parts. Hansen-Løve's narratives are about the many parts. During the year of time "Things to Come" takes place, Nathalie experiences the dissolution of her marriage, the dawning realization that her high-maintenance mother (Edith Scob) can no longer take care of herself, the changing of the guard at her publishing house and the troubling implications of that, and a new friendship with Fabien, a writer of great promise now living in an anarchists' collective in the countryside. She also has to figure out what to do with Pandora, her mother's independent-minded black cat. (In "Elle," released last month, Isabelle Huppert also shares the screen with a memorable cat in a key co-starring role.)
This type of story—long-time marriage falling apart, 50-something woman now on her own and hanging out with her 20-something former student—comes with expectations attached. We think we know what we are going to see. But Hansen-Løve avoids all of it with “Things to Come.” Instead of the cliché, the film—brisk at points, leisurely in others—presents a real-life rhythm of events. People discuss Rousseau and Günther Anders, they argue about the purpose of philosophy and political action. Nathalie’s generation is haunted and defined by the upheaval in 1968. She looks at the idealist young anarchists, sitting around the table discussing the concept of “authorship,” fighting over how to create an alternative paradigm to the only one offered, and she sees herself in her “radical” youth. But this is not the misty nostalgia of a Baby Boomer. At a family dinner, she says to her kids that, unlike the Stalinists she had been surrounded by back then, she “read Solzhenitsyn, end of story.” She tosses that off casually as she puts the food on the table, but it’s one of the many evocative details in the script that rings so true, providing the texture and context for Nathalie’s world and experience. (Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published in 1973 and for many it completely detonated any lingering idealism about the USSR.)