Things to Come
THINGS TO COME, drama, not rated, in French with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
In the closing moments of his great, elegiac 1992 Western Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny discusses a killing with the Schofield Kid. The Kid says, “Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.” “We all got it coming, kid,” Munny replies. That’s a truth about the future as well. We all got it coming. And it is almost certain to come in forms, large and small, that will take us by surprise.
For Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert), a philosophy teacher, the future keeps arriving with revelations that are both ordinary and life-changing. A former radical, she now finds herself impatient with the new crop of student demonstrators who have thrown up a picket line at her school, and blows past them impatiently to conduct her class, and explore topics like the nature of truth.
Her mother, Yvette (Édith Scob, the ingénue of Georges Franju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face ),isa weight on her life, a drama queen constantly begging attention and threatening suicide, who must finally be moved into a new situation of her own, a nursing home, leaving Nathalie with the unwanted care and feeding of her cat.
Nathalie’s publishing house announces that they are keeping up with the times by issuing a new, dumbeddown edition of her textbook — and charging her for copies. Her longtime editor admits to Nathalie that he doesn’t like it either, but that’s the way things are these days, the wave of the future.
A brilliant former student and protégé, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), comes back into her life. He’s now dropped out of his academic track, and is involved with a commune of anarchists, which brings Nathalie face to face with the generation gap that shows her how far she has moved from her idealistic Communist beginnings. Her husband, Heinz (André Marcon), also a teacher, was never a radical, or an adventurer of any kid. Over the years they have settled into a companionable but unexciting marriage that has produced two children, now grown. But Heinz too is moving into the future; pressure from their kids forces him to choose between Nathalie and his mistress, and he goes with the latter. These buffeting winds of change upset the course of Nathalie’s life, but, as portrayed by Huppert in one of this or any year’s great cinema performances, they barely knock her off stride. “Are you sure?” she asks Heinz when he announces that he’s leaving her. Yes, he admits shamefacedly, his head hanging like a dog caught with his paws on the kitchen counter. “I thought you’d always love me,” she says, without much emotion, if not quite with a shrug.
That unruffled surface masks a deeper vulnerability, but Huppert shows us a character with martial arts-like reserves of strength that find a way to turn life’s assaults into positive directions. Her major upset with Heinz’s departure seems to be that he has taken a few books she considers to be hers.
Cut loose from her moorings, she pays a visit to the commune where Fabien and his anarchist friends cook up meals and schemes. She still feels young (the remarkable Huppert is sixty-three and looks 20 years younger), spry enough even to entertain mildly erotic feelings about Fabien, but being around these ideological hotheads she comes to appreciate the perspective and wisdom that a few decades have given her. These are the attributes that give her the ballast she needs to navigate life’s shoals and rapids with style, and often with humor. As her life is stripped of its structure and obligations, her world opens up. The challenge is figuring out what to do with it.
This is the fifth feature from French director Mia Hansen-Løve, who wrote Things to Come (the futuristic-sounding title is a clunky translation of the French title L’ Avenir, meaning “future”) with Huppert in mind, a choice that has paid off handsomely. The director’s parents were both philosophy professors, so the movie’s milieu of character and environment comes from a place she knows well. Hansen-Løve is the wife (and former protégé) of Olivier Assayas, whose 2008 film Summer Hours also features Édith Scob as a dying matriarch.
This has been a banner year in the already extraordinary career of Isabelle Huppert, who also gives a searing performance as a rape victim seeking revenge in Elle, a turn which garnered her a Golden Globe, setting her up as a leading contender in the Oscar race. Whatever happens there, these are two performances that cement her stature as one of our great film artists.
Trajectory of life: Isabelle Huppert