In its original French, the title of Mia Hanson-Løve’s fifth feature is L’Avenir–“The Future.” This deceptively simple, yet profound, declaration immediately highlights the assurity with which Hanson-Løve approaches this intimate tale of a middle-aged philosophy teacher whose life is collapsing around her. With a clear eye for detail, subtlety, and even comic timing, Hanson-Løve has created a world–and a woman–that is both immediately, startlingly familiar and altogether refreshing.
In one of the early scenes, Nathalie Chazeux (Isabelle Huppert) is blocked from entering her classroom due to a student protest. “You can’t stop me from working!” she tells the leaders, as one of her own students negotiates her passage. Striding into the school alone, Nathalie hears the protestors cry “Everyone together!” and scoffs at their hubris. In the vacant hallway, she walks purposefully, confidently–alone.
This solitude will soon become more than theoretical. Nathalie’s aged mother (Edith Scob), rarely leaves the house and frequently calls the fire department in hysterics, and it soon becomes clear she is not long for this world. However, the more shocking development comes when Nathalie’s husband of 25 years (André Marcon) calmly announces he is leaving her. “I thought you would love me forever,” Nathalie says, entirely composed save for a slight reddening of the eyes. “I was a goddamn idiot.”
Nathalie’s life, from this point on, is one she must navigate on her own. Her children are grown. Even her publishers have fired her, citing “market pressures” and the poor sales of her once-esteemed essay collection (several funny scenes take place in business meetings, with Huppert’s rage at a proposed redesign radiating off the screen.) Yet she is far from ruined. Though she declares to her former student, Fabien, (Roman Kolinka) that women after forty are fit for the trash, before their conversation ends she clarifies, “It’s not that serious. My life isn’t over.”
Nor should it be. As Nathalie puts it, intellectual fulfilment is “enough to be happy,” after all, and philosophy is her one great love. Hanson-Løve quotes and name-drops constantly, interweaving these with debates on the merits of anarchy and the passage of time throughout the film, without it ever feeling heavy-handed. Nathalie negotiates Fabien’s commitment to radical action (he effectively lives on a commune in the mountains), as she, one of the children of ‘68, reconciles the way her own views have changed throughout the years. Philosophy is merely a lens through which to view these lives, just as any art is a reflection of ours.
Hanson-Løve’s writing showcases a knack for combining erudition and ease; she makes space for the mundanity of getting places (literally) and the hilarity of everyday life. On a bus on her way home from her mother’s funeral, Nathalie catches sight of her husband and his mistress from the window, and she cannot help but laugh. Huppert is a master of these quick shifts in emotion, capturing the subtle variations of feeling and circumstance that differentiate acting in one’s life from actually living it. Huppert embodies Nathalie so fully that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. It’s no surprise that Hanson-Løve wrote the role with her in mind.
Things to Come is slow at times, unexpectedly brisk at others, and in that way it is more a snapshot into a single woman’s day-to-day than it is a lesson in dramatic structure. Ultimately, Hanson-Løve cares more about Nathalie’s internal state than about any of the external factors which contribute to it. This is a movie primarily about aftermath. No matter how many quotations its characters spout, no matter how many wide-reaching debates they have, its scope is confined. This does not mean it lacks nuance, rather that by restricting its focus, its subject becomes all the more multifaceted. Nathalie feels like a real person, and her thoughts, reactions, and observations–no matter our age–are very much like our own.
by Anna Harvey
Anna Harvey studies history and English literature at Brown University. According to her mom, her favorite genre of film is prettily shot period dramas, with characters who stare into misty landscapes and romantic leads who (probably) die in the end. This is largely true. She’s also a huge fan of Little Miss Sunshine, Captain Fantastic, the 1994 Little Women, and basically anything involving Greta Gerwig. You can find her on Twitter at @annaeveh