The passage of time is tricky; it speeds up when we are enjoying an activity, only to slow down once we fixate on it or when we run into difficulty. It is hard to capture time, as it is also, in a conceptual way, a matter of perception. In Things to Come director Mia Hansen-Løve creates a narrative that gives us a way into the life of Nathalie (played wonderfully by Isabelle Huppert), a fairly content philosophy teacher. The deliberate pace of the film would almost suggest that there are scenes that need to be trimmed by Hollywood standards, yet the sum of smaller scenes depict the form of narrative that creates a powerful, character-driven story wherein time is packed with disruptions and continuities that build up to a hopeful ending.
At first we meet Nathalie in better years; her marriage to husband (André Marcon), seems fulfilling and calm. The film, however, focuses on the separation of the 25-year couple, as he announces one day that he has met someone else. Along with the separation, Nathalie is also faced with the increasingly demanding role of taking care of her ailing mother (Edith Scob), her overweight black cat Pandora, and the departure of her two adult children from home. It is a dramatic change, one that Nathalie never fully expected. While these are trying times, Hansen-Løve also shows the other facets in Nathalie’s life, her wonderful relationship with philosophy and her students, including a close friendship with one, who reassures her of her positive influence in his life.
While the plot of a 50-something woman experiencing the end of a long-time marriage and becoming an empty-nester would have you believe that love is right around the corner; there is something even better in this film. Hansen-Løve takes on the entire life of Nathalie to depict the changes within. She is not seeking for a replacement of her former life. Instead, she is coming to terms with herself and her newfound life. There are many “things to come,” indeed. While life is not all evolving as planned, Nathalie and her relationship to philosophy serves as a guiding force that creates a framework for fulfillment. In some early scenes, she tells her friend and former student Fabian (Roman Kolinka) that she cannot start something with someone new and she could not just date a younger man. She never sees finding new love as the answer.
Huppert is the embodiment of controlled acting, with a performance that showcases her ability to convey complex emotions without having to say much. It is in the quiet moments that reveal a range of emotions, from despair, hope, loneliness, self-fulfillment and even sadness. Huppert’s take of Nathalie, brings a multi-dimensional woman to the big screen, and I, for one, was glad to be along for the ride. Her readings of philosophy to the class let us know as much about her mental state as the subtle performance in Huppert’s face. It is toward the end of the film that we understand that she lives from within, as she reads a quote from Jean Jacques Rousseau to the class, “As long as we desire, we can do without happiness: we expect to achieve it. If happiness fails to come, hope persists, and the charm of illusion lasts as long as the passion that causes it.” And as time passes, it is visible that the desire within Nathalie is re-energized, not through external stimuli, but through her own internal life.
The script, as you would imagine, is a wonderful think piece packed with different philosophical strands. Rousseau, one of the fathers of the French Enlightenment informs Nathalie’s life view in more than one way. A child of the 1968 student movements, she has little patience for students who protest outside her school and cannot fully side with the anarchist bent Fabian has taken. Her former husband, in comparison, takes on a quote from Immanuel Kant as his moving principle, “starry sky above me and the moral law within me,” a quote that seems ironic after he reveals his reasons for leaving the marriage. For Fabian, there is a mixture of many other philosophical influences, including Slavoj Zizek. The erudite exchanges are also colored with Hansen-Løve’s use of light through the film. Her take on Nathalie’s world is filled with beautiful bucolic scenery, even in Paris. The entire film is a strong, yet delicate portrayal of exploring opportunities and the self in a detached way; a thoroughly beautiful film.
Things to come runs 100 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated. It opens in our South Florida area on Friday, Dec. 9 at the Bill Cosford Cinema at the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami and at the Tower Theater Miami. On Dec. 16, it expands to the Miami Beach Cinematheque. For a screening near you, please click here. IFC Films provided a screener link for the purpose of this review.