Things to Come (2016) - Mia Hansen-Løve
Nathalie is a passionate and dedicated middle-aged philosophy professor. Her life, and her future, appear, initially stable. She is married, has two fully grown children, is negotiating the republication of her academic papers and a devoted and inspiring young student about to embark of his life as a philosopher. But, Nathalie is about to face a series of challenges that make her rethink her future and want defines her as a middle-aged women.
Firstly, she discovers that her husband is having an affair with a younger woman, and admittedly amicably, he moves out and divorce proceeding begin. Her aging mother is nearing death. Suffering from physical and mental breakdown she is a stark and depressing reminder of the loneliness and loss of faculties that face Nathalie. She is also soon to become a grandmother. Finally, her publishers are reconsidering modernising her academic publications, much to her dissatisfaction.
Against the backdrop of these events and the unfolding of this mesmerising and perfectly pitched film, Mia Hansen-Løve, who wrote and directed the film, explores the redefinition of women as they approach and enter their middle age. A beautifully delicate scene between Nathalie and her protege Fabien (Roman Kolinka) has her discussing being single in light of her husband's adultery and the impending divorce. Fabien suggests she too take a younger lover. Nathalie dismisses the suggestion immediately. This is just one magnificently subtle exploration of the difference men and women face as they enter middle age and the internal conflict Nathalie faces as she looks to future and re-examines who she is and how to define herself. Women have, the film appears to suggest, less control and freedom over how they define themselves as they move through life stages. It's telling that the only sexual or potentially romantic moment in the film for her involves a lecherous man attempting to be intimate with her in a cinema, then following her home afterwards before forcing himself on her. Nathalie shrugs him away as if he we an annoying fly, more annoyed that he ruined the end of the film for her, than shocked at his inappropriate sexual advances.
As part of the divorce and separation it slowly dawns on Nathalie that her life is going to be unexpectedly upturned. She breaks down at the realisation that the holiday home the family have so many shared experiences in is now forever out of reach. She seeks refuge with Fabien and his youthful, revolutionary friends at a cabin in the mountains. But finds herself out of step and out of touch with their young, idealistic thinking. As a teacher she has shed the youthful exuberance for revolutionary thought and ways of life, instead seeing her role to inspire the young to think for themselves.
As her future looks increasingly unclear one potential, yet depressing, option comes starkly into view. Her mother, aging and suffering the effects of mental and physical breakdown brings further stress into her life. Her mother has become a burden. She lives alone and constantly calls on the fire brigade and her daughter whenever she has a panic and becomes flustered. She fantasizes about her acting career rekindling but the only offer on the table is as a corpse. A morbid reminder of an inevitability too close for comfort.
The film is directed with grace, delicacy and subtly by Mia Hansen-Løve and cut brilliantly by Marion Monnier, who effortless brings the emotional highs and lows of Nathalie to life through deft editing. Nathalie is played with the customary confidence of Isabelle Huppert. She is captivating, by turns heartbreaking and playful. She brings a fragile confidence to the performance which tells us so much about the character. In doing so her performance, and Hansen-Løve's direction, undercut the despair. Despite all of the struggle and turmoil this character faces, when the film ends you are left with the sneaking suspicion that she will make peace and find a path on her own terms. In this way, the film manages to be uplifting and deliver a positive feeling for this woman, and possibly, women in general.
The real brilliance here, aside from the always brilliant Huppert, lies with Hansen-Løve's writing and directing. It would be easy to dismiss this film as light or simple. But hidden beneath the simplicity of form and style the film is a deeply complex study of a character trying to define, and control, her future and her place in the world.