Unless you have been avoiding news from the film festival circuit, this is a big year for Isabelle Huppert. She stars in the lead role in two features that have been making noise at the festivals, although the two projects share little outside of Huppert's involvement. Elle is a light-hearted rape story, while Things to Come is a philosophical look into the life of a woman whose entire life is crumbling around her. Writer/director Mia Hansen-LÝve has crafted a film that doesn't necessarily always seek to entertain, but more to inspire thought and introspection.
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy teacher who seems to have it all: a long-lasting marriage, children, and a job that she loves. When she's fired, her husband soon reveals that he has fallen in love with another woman. After Nathalie's mother passes away, she must find a way to cope and move on, with philosophy being her reason to keep looking forward.
There's no denying that a lot of bad stuff happens to Nathalie over the course of Things to Come that could easily become melodramatic. However, Hansen-LÝve utilizes an extremely subtle use of filmmaking that keeps much of this drama silenced. The lead moves through life with a certain amount of philosophical detachment from everything, which allows her to move through this difficult time with a certain amount of pose. Some audiences may be a bit off-put by the character's lack of an 'emotional wave' that we've come to expect from most cinema, although others will find it to be a breeze of fresh air. Whether we're in the classroom as Nathalie teaches or in her home with her children, it's clear that her philosophical perspective on life keeps her separated from most in a way that makes her undeniably independent, albeit a bit lonely. This is a character study that thrives off of the quiet and subtle.
When Nathalie begins spending a lot of time with past student Fabien (Roman Kolinka), we're expecting a relationship to bloom. However, Hansen-LÝve's screenplay doesn't play that on-the-nose. Rather, the character becomes attracted to the free lifestyle that he leads, which she desperately needs in this time of need. As one would expect, Things to Come is incredibly dialogue-heavy, filled with rich and complex dialogue that often discusses the philosophy of culture and life. There's a lot going on in this film, although much of it is under the surface. We are never provided with any exposition that isn't required to understand the narrative, which forces the viewer to infer about much of the actual drama that takes place. While it didn't make me cry, it still certainly moved me.
Some character relationships can feel a bit too far removed from the audience, but the picture still manages to feel human. Everybody deals with grief differently, and that's certainly put on display here. Running a bit under two hours, the pacing slows down a bit at the end of the second act, although it manages to return to form in the third act. While incredibly fitting, things certainly don't leave off as one would expect. When the credits are rolling, Things to Come will most definitely have you pondering the characters, and perhaps even your own philosophical perspective.
While it isn't surprising in the slightest, Isabelle Huppert is absolutely tremendous. It's a very different performance than what we see in Elle, as she works with a much more understated character. Despite this role being so subdued, Huppert manages to give her a massive amount of depth in the way that she carries herself throughout the film. Meanwhile, Hansen-LÝve fully utilizes the frame in each and every scene to allow perceptive viewers the chance to learn more about the characters. She clearly put a lot of effort into making Nathalie's home tell us a lot about who she is, and how she's making it through this incredibly difficult time.
Writer/director Mia Hansen-LÝve has crafted a deeply intelligent film that discusses the philosophy of love, loss, and revolution in the public and private spheres. This story doesn't indulge in the emotional flourishes that many audiences will be expecting, as it seeks to impact viewers in a different way. Some may be frustrated by the lack of surface emotional intensity, but others will certainly applause it for that. Isabelle Huppert is absolutely stellar, as she delivers a spell-binding performance that truly makes the film what it is. Things to Come is a quiet piece of arthouse cinema, but it sure has a lot to say between the lines. Recommended.
Things to Come will be playing at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi on November 13th and November 14th.