Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy teacher who takes pleasure in thinking and inner life. She’s a recent empty-nester with a rocky marriage and a demanding mother. If she were to suddenly be shed of all those ‘obligations,’ would it be tragic or frankly freeing?
The very plot of this movie, languid as it is, is a bit of a philosophical question: how to reinvent one’s life at every stage, even (especially) when you don’t have control over what’s happening. It’s a nuanced, detail-oriented portrait that offers lots of little observational gifts that rewards close attention.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come (L’avenir) is about a woman who is picking up the pieces of her middle age and trying to formulate some acceptable version of the future for herself. She’s disconnected from her youth and perhaps her old passions, but she’s not done, far from it. The film, and Huppert’s performance, has a stiff upper lip: she submits to a series of diminishments with cool detachment, but we watch as these changes slowly affect her relationships, even the one she has with philosophy.
Isabelle Huppert has had a busy year at the movies, and this film is proof positive as to why: she’s exceptional. Here she gives a performances that is restrained, wary, economical, but never closed off. She’s accessible even in her reserve. Her director, Hansen-Løve, is traditional but meticulous in her story-telling. Compositions are beautiful, editing is fluid, each frame simple and still. The focus is on Nathalie, who appears in nearly every minute of the film, as she grapples with change while trying to remain her stoic self. The film is about charting a new course, sometimes late into life, and the effect an uncertain future will have on a body. But at it’s most basic, Things To Come is about a woman still struggling with identity, and there is no actress better suited to the role that Huppert, who pulls off uncertainty with dignity and aplomb.