Things to Come
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Written by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert (Nathalie Chazeaux), André Marcon (Heinz), Roman Kolinka (Fabien), Édith Scob (Yvette Lavastre), Sarah Le Picard (Chloé), Solal Forte (Johann).
The films of Mia Hansen-Løve often feel like they are made up exclusively from those connective tissue sequences that other movies usually cut. Her latest, Things to Come, tells what is in many ways a familiar story – a woman in late middle-age has their life thrown into chaos. She has a sick, dying mother, a husband who is cheating on her – and eventually decides to leave and her career is reaching an end-point, and it’s not really the one she wanted. She is a teacher, and has a friendship with a much younger former student. She has two grown children, who she has a good relationship with, but who don’t need her anymore. Yet, while the story of Things to Come is familiar, it’s almost like Hansen-Løve uses our familiarity with the story as a way of getting out of doing the kind of kind of scenes that can drag a movie like this down. This isn’t about the emotional fireworks of dying parents and ending marriages – but about the quiet, day-to-day things in which the main character does to adjust to her new reality. And because the star of the movie is the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, Hansen-Løve is able to make a quiet, subtle film in which not a lot is said, but a lot if felt. No one does silent, subtle acting like Huppert.
Things to Come works even better when you see it around the same time as Huppert’s other brilliant 2016 performance – in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. That film does a lot – not all of which anyone can agree with – but one of the things it does is act as almost a parody of French films – indulging in the clichés of French art house cinema, to flip them. In some ways, Things to Come does something similar on a lower key level. This is, after all, about a woman who is a philosophy teacher, married to another philosophy teacher, who drops quotes during a casual dinner, and spends time at an anarchist commune, discussing revolution, authorship and other heady subjects – the type of conversations that only really happen in French movies (do they happen in real life, and I’m just hanging out with the wrong people? Is this why I never understand what the hell Godard is talking about in any of his recent movies).
Yet in many ways, that is just the foreground of the film – what happens, not really what it is about. Like she did in a film like Goodbye First Love, which charted the rise and fall of young love, Hansen-Løve uses audience familiarity with the setup and incidents of the movie to concentrate more on quieter scenes – scenes of Huppert walking alone in the wilderness, running to catch a train, quietly rocking her new grandchild, etc. Huppert never truly lets her feelings explode out of her – she doesn’t yell at her husband for leaving her – she clearly isn’t surprised that he’s having an affair, just that he’s actually leaving her for the other woman. When her mother finally dies, she doesn’t cry – she goes for a quiet walk by herself.
This is a film that needs an actress like Huppert at its core. Huppert does more with a look – a slight movement of her head, the hint of smile, than most actors do with their whole body. The camera hardly ever leaves Huppert in the course of the movie (I remember just a few moments without her) – and she carries us along through this quiet film.
I don’t think Things to Come is quite as good as Hansen-Løve’s last two films – 2015’s Eden was an electronic music version of Inside Llewyn Davis, which continued to grow in mind for months after seeing it, and Goodbye First Love was so sweet, without being mawkish or sentimental. Things to Come does contain a brilliant performance by Huppert though – and a subtle one. For those who think Elle is too much (and there are a lot of you), Things to Come will work as a reminder of just how brilliant Isabelle Huppert is – and that Hansen-Løve continues to be a director to watch.