Things to Come or L’avenir is a French film written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. I have a fondness for foreign films exploring various facets of life and thought the trailer of this film was particularly promising, with a story about a philosophy teacher whose life is upended. By the end of the movie, I found it fulfilling and enjoyed some of the small themes woven into the story.
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy teacher at a university. Her husband, Heinz (André Marcon) and she have been married for twenty-five years with two grown children. There are student protests going on at her school that has left her with half of her students attending. She is also juggling taking care of her aging, domineering mother who is possessive of Nathalie’s time. Despite these challenges, Nathalie is passionate about passing on knowledge to her students, consulting with one of her former students, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), who she treats like a son. Then, one by one, like dominoes, the lynchpins in her life are removed and Nathalie must reinvent her life.
Her husband tells her he is having an affair and is moving out of the house. Her publishers tell her they want changes in the textbook and essay collection that she has been writing for years. Her mother ends up needing more care than Nathalie can provide and she must put her in a care facility, ending up taking in her mother’s cat Pandora. She feels she is too old to start over but she attempts to hold onto her students and her books.
In her youth, she was a protester, a communist and she explores those leanings again with Fabien who is also an anarchist. She discusses politics and philosophy with him. As she does, he challenges her, pointing out that she has only gone to protests and demonstrations but never acted on her beliefs. She makes the observation that her true belief is teaching her students to think for themselves. In those interactions, she finds a balance and a resolution to her new life. Ultimately, she must find a freedom that works for her.
There is a lot of nuance to this movie, both in the cinematography and in the story. Throughout the film, there are references to ideas and books. The library in Nathalie’s house is full of books that she and her husband share between them. Those who love books and learning will appreciate these small touches of authenticity to her character. I love that there was so much time taken to develop these aspects in the film.
I also enjoyed the way that Nathalie learns to enjoy life again after her divorce. She is shown in tears at times and struggling with how to keep moving but she finds a way to keep happiness in her life. The story does so without falling into the trap of making the character need a man for her happiness. She finds her joy in her students and her family. I feel that is what this movie really tells us, that it’s okay to have changes in our lives but we can still find enjoyment even after loss. I found those ideas hopeful and positive.
Isabelle Huppert is engaging as Nathalie. She thoroughly embraces her role as a teacher. The film itself is quiet and thoughtful, showing us pieces of Nathalie’s life so we’ll understand when it all changes. Her mother, Yvette (Edith Scob) is domineering and manipulative with Nathalie and every time Nathalie attempts to change that dynamic, she falls back into the dynamic out of love for her mother and a desire to keep her mother safe. Both women play out their roles perfectly.
André Marcon is believable as a man who has fallen out of love with Nathalie. He still loves her and there is friendship between the two, even after their separation but he displays that distance from her even in the opening scenes of the film. Roman Kalinka is challenging as Fabien. I liked the discussions that Nathalie and he have, which provide a framework for the changes in her life. I think all the acting in this film is nuanced and lovely.
I did struggle at times with parts of the film. While I enjoyed the message in the movie, there were scenes that did drag for me. Even the opening sequence left me scratching my head as we are introduced to the characters but aren’t told their names. We don’t find out this information until several minutes into the film and this left me floundering a bit as I struggled to catch up with the film.
There were also scenes that really weren’t necessary, that could have been cut and not made an impact on the story. One such scene is Nathalie meeting with her publishers for her textbook. They tell her that they won’t be publishing the book but rather than cut as she leaves the room, the scene extends out a few seconds scanning over her publisher’s faces. With the movie being slower paced, unnecessary scenes like this made the film crawl at times. While I liked learning little details about Nathalie’s life, I wished it had moved faster.
If you like subtitled, foreign films, you might like this. It moves slowly but it does have beautiful exploration on how to recover from change and loss. Isabelle Huppert is likeable as Nathalie and kept me engaged in her story. The ending ties everything together and has a hopeful element, decidedly different than some foreign films I’ve watched. This movie is emotional in a quiet, thoughtful way and offers some profound observations on life and love.
Rating: 3.5 stars
What happens when the life you’ve worked so hard to build falls apart all at once? Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert, in a radiant performance) is a philosophy teacher with a seemingly settled existence, juggling a rich life of the mind with the day-to-day demands of career and family (including frequent visits to her drama queen mother, played by the legendary Édith Scob). But beginning with the bombshell revelation that her husband of twenty-five years is leaving her, one by one the pillars of Nathalie’s life start to crumble. For the first time in ages, she finds herself adrift, but also with a newfound sense of liberation. With nothing to hold her back, Nathalie sets out to define this new phase of her life and to rediscover herself. Winner of the Best Director award at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival, the new film from Mia Hansen-Løve (Eden) is an uncommonly intelligent, soul-searching look at what it means to create a life of one’s own.
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve