Film Review – Things to Come
Things to Come
Isabelle Huppert brilliantly holds together Things to Come a confounding yet still fascinating film. Director Mia Hansen-Løve has a style that is hard to pin down. She likes to create as much real life as she can in her films that sometimes leads to me thinking that she really has nothing to say. There are some long moments that made me wonder what was the overall journey of this film. Minutes later, after thinking and talking about the film, what starts to emerge is a more interesting picture than I first realized.
Nathalie (Huppert) is a successful philosophy teacher and published author of textbooks and philosophical thought. She is married to Heinz (André Marcon), another philosophy teacher who appears very together and seems comfortable. Still not everything is going well. Her mother Yvette (Edith Scob) is depressed and often calls her, thinking something is going to happen or that she will kill herself in what appears to be either attention-seeking behavior or possibly losing her mind, or a combination of both. Besides that several students are going on strike at the school that interferes with her ability to even teach those that do come to class.
Slowly though it becomes clear that Nathalie is starting to go through a bit of a Job-like experience losing things in her life. We find out her husband is seeing someone else, her mother is becoming more erratic to the point of being unable to cope, the strike continues, and even the reprinting of her textbook is causing issues. As things collapse on her it is not that she falls into a huge place of despair. She perseveres, she goes out and lives her life and still has good things happening. Even though she is separating from her husband she remains on relatively good terms with him, she has her house, and her children (even though they are grown up and not around anymore she still spends time with them), and she is still a teacher who is able to get her students interested in what she is saying. One thing that changes in a potentially positive way is reconnecting with one of her older students that she admired Fabien (Roman Kolinka), who is starting to live in a commune with like-minded philosophers debating how they want to change the system and become self-reliant.
Nathalie’s experience here is particularly striking as she finds the countryside beautiful but as she hears them debate the merits of whether or not they should publish their beliefs anonymously she finds she cannot relate to these kind of arguments anymore. As she says, I have done this before. She has not grown cynical or conforming as Fabien thinks she has. But she has lived and has a different viewpoint about what she thinks philosophy is about and this kind of change-the-world mentality just doesn’t appeal to her anymore. She wants to just let people learn to think.
This is a message that the film itself is letting sink in, not telling us one way or another that we should view Nathalie a particular way. We do wonder will she meet someone else? Find something else that gives her life a new kind of meaning? Is that what she needs in her life at all? Even with her “losing’ so much she never is completely “doomed” because we see her as life goes on. She is sad at times, we see her cry and need to cuddle in bed with her mother’s cat as often as we see her reading a book or teaching her class. Sometimes things feel bad and other times she powers through.
It should go without saying that Isabelle Huppert is absolutely brilliant here. This year as been a huge year for her between this film and Elle reminding everyone about how great she is and I am drinking the kool-aid and agreeing fully. What she is able to do is play the ordinary yet sophisticated intellectual and make it look easy. She grabs your attention as you try and usually fail to try to figure out some kind of idea about what she is thinking by watching her. All you can do it watch and wonder with her as she never gives even a hint as to what is coming while being able to let loose her emotions in sudden glances or hide them behind a blank face that is impossible to read.
At the start I mentioned that my biggest question was what did I take away from this film and it took a while but its message slowly sunk in. Life’s questions are not easily answered and sometimes there is no magic answer to make things better. Maybe there isn’t meant to be one. Even when bad things happen there can be something else that isn’t as good but can still make simply existing worth it. Then again maybe sometimes things just change and that is what life is.