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THINGS TO COME (2016) review

December 4, 2016

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written by: Mia Hansen-Løve
produced by: Charles Gilbert
directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve
rated: PG-13
runtime: 102 min.
U.S. release date: December 2, 2016 (limited) & December 16, 2016

 

I’ve only seen two films from French writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve, but she has my attention. Her last film from a couple years ago, “Eden”, made the over two-hour journey of a Parisian DJ in the underground scene of the 90s an aesthetically fascinating experience and now with her latest, “Things to Come” she focuses on the life of a Parisienne experiencing an upheaval on multiple fronts, a woman who responds to unperceived life changes in unexpected ways. In just these two films, it’s evident that Hansen-Løve has a knack for presenting characters who manage to inadvertently persevere and redefine themselves under adverse circumstances and life-altering changes. It helps that she happens to have one of the greatest working actresses carry “Things to Come” in Isabelle Huppert and together, the two deliver and profound and confident film that subverts the family melodrama genre. 

Nathalie Chazeaux (Huppert) is a married philosophy professor and essayist in modern-day Paris, a character we follow for about a year. Within that time, Nathalie experiences tremendous changes in her life, the kind you would ordinarily expect to see a character on film build into a nervous breakdown. She has two adult children with her husband of twenty-five years, Heinz (Andre Marcon), a professor at the same university, who come over for dinner and together seem to have a functional family dynamic. Such contentment is shaken when Nathalie is told by Heinz that he has met someone else and will be moving out. This news rattles Nathalie, but she moves on, keeping busy with her profession, her passion and the freshman who are protesting her school’s hiring practices. If dealing with the newfound infidelity wasn’t enough, Nathalie is discovering her demanding actress mother, Yvette (Edith Scob “Holy Motors”), is no longer able to live on her own and is requiring assisted living and care. Not only that, her mother’s obese black cat needs a home now too.

 

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In comes former protegé, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a radical and fellow essayist that Nathalie had supported when he was her student. He invites her to stay at a commune in the French countryside where he resides with a young group of fellow radical philosophy students. She is old enough to be their mother, but Nathalie is comfortable amongst them. She understands their radicalism from her own youth, but through experience and time, she has developed a wisdom and strength that provides the peace she needs to move through her pain and onto the next uncertain stage in life.

In the hands of any other writer/director and lead actor, the storyline here would have the potential to fall into conventional trappings like broad characterizations and overacting, but Hansen-Løve and Huppert provide tenderness and honesty to Nathalie and the situations she finds herself in. Both writer/director and actor have absolute control and command of the material here and it shows in this tremendous character study, providing life contemplations amid the beautiful French landscape. In her subtlety, Hansen-Lave presents a marriage that has become one of convenience and cohabitation, something that’s relatable and easy to understand. She doesn’t vilify one spouse over the other, nor does she force anything more than friendship between Nathalie and Fabien’s characters. It’s one of those films where you find yourself noticing while you’re watching just how good a film it is.

 

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Huppert, who is indeed a national treasure of France, happens to have two superb roles out right now –  this one and her work in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” – and if both of these roles happen to get certain viewers to discover her, well then I’m somewhat jealous. She is a smart and exquisite actress, someone who relishes the nuances and knows that Nathalie needs not be hysterical in her responses to all that she has to navigate in life. She does a tremendous job portraying a character who takes the continuous left turns that life gives her and finds opportunities for pause, reflection and reevaluation. Hansen-Lave sees what Huppert does and deliberately accentuates her abilities, lighting and framing the actress in just the right way for each scene. There is a noticeable and knowing understanding in the compatible relationship between Hansen-Løve and Huppert that shines through in the end product.

As much as there are challenges presented to Nathalie, both Hansen-Løve and Huppert find the right amount of levity and light to add to “Things to Come”. Whether its finding a solution to a now-homeless cat or searching for a cell signal on a phone, both of which are life situations that are relatable to viewers and also needed humor that balances out the challenging elements of the story. Hansen-Løve’s affinity for music was evident in “Eden” and here she includes songs by The Fleetwoods, Donovan and Woody Guthrie, offering a wide variety of music that imbues each scene with an extra amount of life.

“Things to Come” is many things, but most of all it is a meditative film about living with life’s unexpected turns. The knowing aches and pains presented here will resonate with viewers just as much as the laughter and awkwardness that come with those moments in life. It should also be noted that when complaints are made about how there are no good roles for women, Huppert’s roles this year in “Elle” and “Things to Come” should be mentioned.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 1, 2017 5:40 pm

    I enjoyed your review thank you, even though I do not share your enthusiasm for what I think is one of Isabelle Huppert’s least inspiring performances for years. Post-divorce trauma is full of cinematic potential but it is not fulfilled in this story. The acting is shallow and pace glacial; despite the philosophic overtones, its just another woman shattered by an unfaithful man.

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