Things to Come (2016)
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As the Rousseau quote declares, desire is the enemy of happiness. Our failed satisfactions are based upon the desire for something new — which, once achieved, no longer satisfies.
Isabel has lived through the political temptations of her time, from her flirtation with communism through the '68 revolution. So she's not tempted by the current students' strike for pensions or her star ex-student Fabien's anarchism. In contrast, her husband stays stuck in the attitudes he held at 18 and has the rigidity and insensitivity to tyrannize his students.
Isabel finds real value and fulfilment in teaching philosophy to her high school students, training them to think for themselves and taking an interest in their lives. She has a stoic response to her publishers' initial insistence on jazzing up her textbooks, then suspending their publication altogether. Her integrity won't allow her to abandon her values. She has the dignity and self-respect to accept their abandonment with aplomb.
That also sustains her through her husband's abandonment for a younger woman. As briskly as Isabel cuts loose from him she ends her connection to his family's country home where they vacationed every summer and where she planned and cultivated her garden. In all their scenes together she conducts herself with strength and an absolute rejection of self-pity.
This self-sufficiency supports her when she visits Fabien's mountain retreat and when her fragile yet demanding mother dies. A scene with an importunate stranger at a cinema shows her refusal to seek carnal reaffirmation. Her grandson's birth shows her instead embracing the role of grandmother, fully and warmly.
In the last scene Isabel hosts a Christmas dinner with her children. To let her daughter eat, Isabel goes to tend to the crying baby, stilling him with yet another song. With the family dinner framed out of the shot on the left and Isabel and the infant framed out on the right, the shot focuses on the shelves of books between them.
The film is about the use of those books, i.e., the traditional function of philosophy — detached from the fashions of the day in pedagogy or politics — to address the one essential question: How should we live our life?
Aptly, the last song is "Unchained Melody," which turns an exultation in freedom into a love song. The Schubert song and the Woody Guthrie ballad both provide imagery of transcending the mundane reality by discovering the ethereal around it.
The other characters live to pursue new pleasures, which inevitably fail to satisfy them. The husband's new woman has left him alone for Christmas, apparently not yet ready to introduce him to her family. Fabien and his German friends debate the political uses of anonymity or the collective authorship (i.e., the death of the author or the personal, a recently fashionable fiction).
Isabel's daughter has wanted a baby but at the tension between her parents dissolves into tears and needs to hold him again. As if he will give her the stability she lost through her father's infidelity. The preacher similarly cites Isabel's career as a philosophy teacher to be the proper justification for her mother's life of pain, isolation and abandonment.
And then there is Pandora. This is the obese, willful, all-black cat that Isabel inherits from her mother, is allergic to and impatient with, and finally leaves at Fabien's retreat. Far from the traditional Pandora, who unleashed the world's evil winds, this one is a minor key replay of Isabel's themes. Pampered by Isabel's mother, Pandora hides from whoever else enters her mistress's flat. She's heavy to carry, like the unwanted burdens we all have periodically thrust upon us. But like Isabel she has a feral intelligence and instinct. This house cat takes off into the forest but has the instincts to survive and find her way home in the morning, bringing her new mistress back a dead mouse. In her instinctual survival and her integrity the cat is another reflection of our wise, warm and worldly philosopher.
The film is titled L'Avenir, "the future." Written and directed by a woman, it offers a real rarity: a heroine of intellect, will and strength. That's a refreshing new kind of superhero.
The great French actress Isabelle Huppert plays Nathalie (based on Hansen-Løve's own mother). A successful philosophy professor with two grown children, a fellow philosopher for a husband, and an ailing mother, she is comfortably settled in her life. But as the movie continues on we watch as the things that Nathalie considered so much a part of her, change, dissolve, disintegrate.
I'll admit it, I was actually initially reluctant to watch the movie because the idea of seeing a woman having everything taken away from her seemed almost too sad to bear. And yet Things to Come is a surprisingly joyful movie. Nathalie isn't an automaton, she cries as the things she once counted on as part of her life are no more, but at the same time she picks herself up, dusts herself off and goes on.
She has her husband Heinz, two children, a mother on the verge of death who constantly needs her attention, and a previous student that she now has a sort of mother-son relationship with. The film starts with Nathalie, Heinz, and their children visiting a grave of a French author, and then cuts to several years later when Nathalie is called by her dying mother because she is "having a panic attack", although it seems she's done this before and simply wants to force her daughter to give her company. Soon after she is confronted by young protesters on the way to work. They are angry about something having to do with their future retirement. From the start, this film shows that it is about a fear of the future: fear of death, fear of loneliness, fear of old age.
Soon it is revealed that Heinz is having an affair, and he is told by his children that he must choose between her and his wife. He tells his wife that he chose the other woman. She desperately addressed the news with "I thought you would love me forever".
From here, she begins to realize her aging is happening faster than she has realized as her personal relationships and desires begin to fade away slowly and subtly until she is left with nothing but a cat, until she finally accepts her aging and lets go of that as well. The character becomes conflicted, and Isabelle Huppert conveys this repressed regret and fear perfectly. She doesn't want to care about her husband's affair, and she wants to be satisfied with what she has accomplished, but her dreams of the future seem to be destroyed, as each of those she loves begins to let her down. She even tries to fill the whole left by her husband through another relationship, but she no longer has the will or desire. In a great shot, the screen fades to black as she opens the blinds, showing the reality of her loneliness. She begins to lose hope.
Her mother's death marks the disappearance of the one person in her life who still needed her. Her mother's life was revealed to be full of suffering and lost love, but Nathalie was the one thing in her life that she could be proud of, and now Nathalie has taken her place.
As extreme as this sounds in my description, the film itself is very subtle, and relies heavily on Huppert's performance, to great effect.
While "Things to Come" is a solemn, emotional film with themes that are upsetting and relatable for everyone, there is hope in the end. Through the newborn baby, there is hope, potential, and desire, and that is what is important. That is what we need to continue in life, even if the reality doesn't live up to the desire.
Then her husband announces he is having an affair and is leaving her. With the certitude of familiarity now removed and new possibilities blossoming she has to decide if this is a tragedy or a new beginning and what to make of her life.
Now this is just compelling from start to finish all the performances are brilliant. This is one of those films where you feel you are being a voyeur in many respects – it is that well done. The sub stories too are done with such care that they segue seamlessly into the main narrative – rather like the way things do in real life. Huppert is superb (as she always is) Roman Kolinka as Fabien is rather good to and worthy of a mention as he is sort of ambiguous but in a way so contrived that you question whether he actually is.
Anyway, in French a bit of German and the ever present English this is an understated gem that will bring much reward to any who should seek it out – recommended.
Like "Eden," this is one of those movies that simply shows a person's life over some period of time. There is no moral, no point to the story (as far as I can see), very little humor (Isabelle Huppert was at the screening and said she tried to inject a bit of humor with her acting), and more than a bit pretentious (the director seemed to be in love with the final scene, although it left me cold).
I have a feeling this was, like "Eden," fairly autobiographical. The director's parents were both philosophy teachers, and I would have liked them to have commented on the movie--was this really about them? Is the director simply making a movie in the same way other people might talk about their parents to a therapist? I don't know.
My objection is that nothing much happens--either in terms of plot or in terms of involvement in the movie. Yes, her husband leaves her for another woman. Yes, she likes her former student, but there is not much passion in either situation. She doesn't seem to care, and neither did I. There are occasional long quotations from philosophers, and maybe this would have made everything more comprehensible, but the quotations were quite long, and hard to follow with subtitles. Even so, you shouldn't need a quotation to make sense of a movie.
She has a dull, middle-aged husband who also teaches, two grown children and an ageing, ill mother, (Edith Scob from "Eyes Without a Face"), when suddenly her life is thrown into disarray, Nevertheless she copes, mainly due to her friendship with a younger man who was once one of her students, There is a suggestion that they might become romantically involved but it's just a hint in a film full of hints.
This is serious stuff, intellectually rigorous and yet full of humor; a film for intelligent, grown-up audiences who like to take their brains with them when they go to the pictures and Huppert, who is never off the screen, is stunningly good. Every gesture she makes, the way she walks, tells us something about this woman as much as what she says. This is great acting.
Everyone else follows suit. Roman Kolinka as Fabien, the New-Age would-be anarchist she comes to rely on, if only for company, could have been such a cliché but Kolinka brings depth and shadings to the role and makes him likable and interesting. Even Andre Marcon as the dull husband is dull in a way that makes him sympathetic rather than a figure of fun.
By now you might have realized that I loved this film as much as any I've seen this year. Is it a masterpiece? Probably not. In the end it's gossamer thin but it is also a gem, a beautiful uncut diamond of a movie. See it at all costs.
Nonetheless, in the early going, Things to Come has great promise. Huppert's Nathalie is a bundle of energy who stands up to student protesters who attempt to intimidate her students by blocking them from entering the campus and taking her class. Then there are a couple of young book publishers who would like Nathalie to re-write her textbook since it's no longer selling well. She not only resists the re-write but opposes a sleek new design they rather untactfully advocate.
Nathalie also must deal with an aging mother who calls the fire department whenever she has a panic attack. Some have pegged her a hypochondriac but as the narrative plays out, her actual health condition is decidedly quite poor and before you know it Nathalie and the rest of her family are attending a funeral.
The break into the second act occurs when Nathalie's daughter confronts her father with the knowledge that he's been having an affair, and demands that he either stay with her mother or leave her for the other woman. The husband named Heinz (André Marcon) is also a professor but a bit of a wet fish who decides to leave Nathalie, prompting the aforementioned mid-life crisis.
At this juncture, one prepares for some unexpected or perhaps suspenseful things to happen with Nathalie, but sadly they never come. Much is made of Nathalie's relationship with her former student, Fabien, who retreats to the mountains and lives with a small commune of anarchists who also happen to be graduate or former graduate students. On her first visit to see Fabien after the breakup with her husband, Nathalie is most concerned about her house cat who has wandered off into the woods. Fabien reassures her that the cat will return out of "instinct," and Fabien's promise foreshadows the direction Nathalie ultimately takes in response to the new path she's forced to take in life.
If you're expecting some sparks to fly between Nathalie and Fabien, you will be disappointed. A few blunt words are exchanged after Fabien finds Nathalie too bourgeois for his tastes but the anarchist and former professor seem to get along despite their divergent political pathways.
Nothing happens between Nathalie and her ex-husband either except for Nathalie giving him a continual cold shoulder after he leaves her for the other woman. Nathalie's anger is understandable but she chooses not to look for a new man since she asserts she's too set in her ways at this point to make a new relationship work. Casual sex is also out of the question especially after a creep follows her out of a movie theater and boorishly plants a kiss on her lips right out on the streets.
Things to Come is best described as a "slice of life," but even the most basic of dramas need some kind of twist that takes us out of the ordinary (albeit for at least a single moment of enlightenment or epiphany). Here Hansen-Løve is content to have her protagonist reject a new direction and embrace the mundane. Indeed Nathalie follows her "instinct" by becoming a good grandmother, upon the birth of her first grandchild.
For some critics Hansen-Løve's sophistry is wrapped up in the narrative's "subtlety." Others may find that subtlety is simply a code word for lack of clever plotting—leading to a fitful conclusion that character arcs should never be associated with the moniker of the mundane.
When watching the film, I was expecting a turn of events that would give the film some meaning, but I expected in vain. Nothing such happened and I could not grasp why the film was made in the first place - perhaps only because it had received funding?
I gave the film 6 points out of 10, because the acting and filming was good and the characters in the film were sympathetic. However, the manuscript was weak and the director lacked vision.
I left the movie theater somewhat disappointed.
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy professor, writer, longtime wife to Heinz (Andre Marcon), mother of two grown children, and care-taker to a depressed, slightly-dementia-stricken mother (Edith Scob) who is prone to calling for emergency workers when Nathalie doesn't answer her phone calls. The film offers no murder mystery, alien invasion or other earth-rattling event. Instead it guides us through Nathalie's process in dealing with life things that occur on a daily basis.
The genius of the film, script and character stems from the fact that Nathalie never creates drama where none exists a rare personality trait these days. Rather than plead for mercy from the universe, she simply plows forward during what would be three personal-world-crumbling events in a lesser movie: her husband cheats and leaves her, her mother dies, and she is fired (or at least forced to move off her method) from the job she loves.
Ms. Huppert delivers yet another stellar performance (see her in this year's Elle) as Nathalie. She is an intellectual and thoughtful woman, but not necessarily the warm and cuddly type. Sure she cares for her family and inspires her students, and rather than lash out at her confessing husband, she only shows frustration when he takes a couple of her beloved books in his move out (or stuffing his flowers in the trash can). Disappointment is more obvious when her prized former-pupil Fabien (Roman Kolinka) is unable to competently debate his radical views with her choosing instead a condescending, brusque approach designed to shut her down.
Nathalie is more shocked by her publisher's intention to "modernize" her book than by finding "The Unabomber Manifesto" on the shelf at Fabien's commune for intelligent anarchists. The politics of a particular situation has influence on nearly every scene, and Ms. Hansen-Love's script emphasizes the importance of seasoning/experience in handling life and does a remarkable job contrasting those who have it from those who don't. Few movie soundtracks include both Woody Guthrie and Schubert, but then both fit well when the story avoids a mid-life self-discovery, and instead focuses on the realization of freedom. These are two very different things, and you'd have a difficult time finding a better look than this film offers.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve, best known for the excellent "Father of My Children" some years ago. Here she brings to the big screen a seemingly ordinary slice of life about a women in her late fifties, dealing with changes around her: her aging mom, issues at school, issues with her husband, issues with her schoolbook publishing company, etc. etc. No bomb explosions, no special effects, no car chases, just people interacting and living their lives. The first hour of the movie plays out in Paris, and makes day-to-day life in Paris look fantastic: mostly sunny weather, people playing in the park, people enjoying a coffee on a sidewalk terrace, etc. (Having grown up in nearby Belgium, I can assure you that in reality the weather is rarely that nice...) The rests of the movie plays out at the family's summer house in Brittany, and also in the Rhone mountains. But the very best part of the movie is of course to watch Isabelle Huppert in action. In my mind, Huppert is the European Meryl Streeo (they are about the same age), and Huppert seemingly is only getting better as she's getting older (just like Streep). Here Huppert brings the Nathalie character with a vulnerability yet an equal amount of determination. In one of her classes, she asks the students "can the established truth be debated?" Later on, she concludes that "the future is compromised".
"Things to Come" won major acclaim when it premiered at the Berlin film festival last year, and rightfully so. As it happens, Huppert released another film last year, "Elle", that won her even greater acclaim. It's tough when you're competing against yourself. "Things to Come" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati (the same theater where "Elle" is still showing, coincidentally). The Sunday matinée screening where I saw this at was packed, to my surprise. I guess the word is out that basically any film starring Isabelle Huppert is almost certainly a must-see, and that certainly is the case here. "Things to Come" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
I get that this is a slice of midlife crisis examination of a woman whose world is catastrophically crashing down all around her. And I have appreciated the great French actress Isabelle Huppert in other star vehicles (e.g., "Home" and "The Piano Teacher"). But as talented as she is, Huppert is hopelessly lost in this pretentious mess centered around philosophy, anarchy and shattered relationships that tries hard, way TOO much so, in fact, to be more important and profound than the film ever manages to realize.
And trust me, I kept waiting for any manner of compelling "things to come" to actually come to pass here.
And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And...
But a film which engages with the desperate search for new paradigms of Resistance and Revolution...A film which brings in a Zizek reference right on cue, in a non - name dropping kind of way. This is a film which matters - or which could matter, if the look was not so French Lifetime Channel. I mean, I know I'm showing my age if I say that I would like a film which engages with ideas to also engage with them on the level of Film Grammar. I mean, Adorno's Minima Moralia (referenced several times) is Adorno for Beginners - the film coulda reflected that work on some kind of structural level, at least a LITTLE bit, without losing the audience. At least I think so! Or hope so...
I would've hoped for something on the level of Godard's La Chinoise, but the film is closer to Tanner's Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000. But, for 2016, that's pretty good...pretty good. Anyway, it's hip for French directors to turn their backs on Godard now - I heard Desplechin announce (with pride) that he had moved from Godard to Truffaut. Well, if My Golden Years is any indication, it's not a good move...
Things to Come is not a great film. But it is filled with lots of Little Beauties. I loved the Woody Guthrie scene. Especially how actor Roman Kolinka really nails Woody's nuances, albeit with a Gallic lilt. All of the references - literary, musical - are note - perfect and done with excellent taste. But - (Tl;dr) - all this really proves is that French Middlebrow Culture is closer to Highbrow Culture than American Middlebrow Culture is.
The movie stars Isabelle Huppert as Nathalie Chazeaux, a gifted philosophy professor and textbook author. She has an happy life, with a loving husband and two loving children. She has a burden as well--her mother suffers from dementia, and will soon have to be placed in a nursing home. In a matter of days, things start to turn sour for Nathalie, and that's where the plot begins.
The plot takes Nathalie from her beautiful home in Paris, to a vacation home in Brittany, to a rural farming commune. Each of these locations is beautifully photographed. Because of the wonderful scenery, the movie will work better on a large screen. (We saw it at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY.) Still, it's such a superb film, that if you can't see it in a theater, see it on the small screen.
All the supporting actors do a good job, and each is believable. However, all of them could be interchanged with other actors who have same level of ability. No one could replace Huppert. She is so talented, intelligent, attractive, and graceful that she was made to play this role. Without her, the movie might not work. With her, it's masterful. This film is too good to miss!
P.S. The only other actor to match Huppert's level of talent and grace is Pandora, the cat. Pandora is old, and she has been pampered, but when she needs to catch a mouse, she catches a mouse.
Being raised in a home with two philosophy teachers as parents, Mia Hansson- Love uses in-depth philosophy to examine her central theme/s. Nathalie, her main character, illustrates strong points by telling her family, acquaintances, and students, that in her youth she had been surrounded by Stalinists but, she read Solzhenitsyn (who exposed many vague notions about the 'idealism' of the USSR!). Without labouring her points, she invites her students and anarchist friends to think for themselves, even lifting a veil against the trendy leanings of Post Modernism. She freely quotes the philosophies of Rousseau and Gunther Anders (might any of this had an influence on the avoidance of sensationalised clichés within the intelligence level of Love's script...I wonder?) With succinct statements Nathalie invites them to recognise the positive points of right and wrong with an open mind. This is a woman grounded in pure realism - even though, beyond her control, some elements that have constituted her world till now are beginning to alter.
If I may have questioned anything it could have been the resolve with which she accepts some of her situations - she says to her husband and the father of her children; "I thought you would love me forever" - then simply, without even questioning his leaving her, goes along with it. This could be the reaction of someone who was expecting the situation, but to one who thought all was well....I'm not so sure. Nathalie is superbly played by Isabelle Huppert and supported by a well chosen cast who, take us on a slice-of-life journey that's reminiscent of some of Bergman's better works - examining the intimate challenges that life brings into most all our paths - without trivializing or cheapening the experience. The careful selection & use of music is evident (as with earlier works) adding to the soundly grounded profundity of this enlightening cinematic achievement. The fluid imagery of prolific cinematographer Denis Lenoir (Still Alice '14) is not always suited to subtitled topics but one imagines the budget and subject would have dictated this style - so, some may find viewing and reading could need a little extra concentration at times. Still, the rewards are well worth any efforts necessary to stay with this strong and satisfying work.
For someone used to french cinema it isn´t that outstanding but it´s such a serious piece of film-making it stands out among the rest. In my opinion the last section could have been trimmed and I have a couple of petty complaints but overall it´s still a compelling film. A pleasant drama that should easily satisfy anyone who knows what they´re getting into.
This is very french especially how Nathalie reacts to her husband's revelation. It doesn't have to be melodramatic but I would like for more drama. The danger is never that high although there is surely some emotional dangers. Huppert's classy acting keeps the movie compelling. I would like to have her disconnecting happen in the first half hour. Instead, it's dragged over an hour and there isn't enough time for her to find herself. It's the shortest of freedom rides. It's understated. I prefer something more dramatic.