Still from 2016's "Things to Come."

Things to Come July 14, 2017        

The material is ripe for melodrama, with, say, one or two big scenes where Huppert is asked to break down wildly for the sake of appealing to the inevitable money clips utilized in award ceremonies. But we never receive outbursts. Just little moments wherein our protagonist deals with these setbacks with quiet sorrow.

 

I was reminded of Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman, the 1978 dramedy that saw a well-off 30-something (Jill Clayburgh) reeling after she discovers her husband (Michael Murphy) has been having an affair and is going to leave her for his mistress. In that film, which was and is so funny, sad, romantic, and true, Clayburgh takes it upon herself to not let the downfall of her marriage ruin her life. Briefly, she finds romance again. But after some time does she uncover just what a miraculous thing it can be to be liberated from the responsibilities of domesticity and have the opportunity to sit down and take care of yourself.

 

Things to Come has a similar outlook. Somewhere during its middle, Chezeaux remarks to a former student (Roman Kolinka) that she’s nonplussed by how well she’s taking the tumultuousness of her life. She considers herself to be so intellectually satisfied (her passion for her teaching job never wanes) that it fills the voids left by the absence of her husband and her mother.

 

Initially, we doubt her. It sounds like the typical denial that comes from the mouth of someone who’s experienced something trying but still hasn’t quite processed it yet. And we’re slightly correct, given the handful of clips within the film that see Chezeaux alone in her bed, crying and clutching the black cat she’s inadvertently inherited from her mom.

 

But sooner or later do we realize that it’s possible that she really is satisfied. Maybe she’d been drifting away from her husband long before he ever met someone else; maybe she’d been ready to say goodbye to her mother following years of being subjected to the latter’s psychological instability. The freedom feels good. She might not have expected to experience singlehood at this point in her life. She might have anticipated her mother stick around for a few more years. But in lieu of it all, she gets to redefine what it means to be Nathalie Chezeaux. And for all intents and purposes, that’s a thrill. The passing of time is inevitable, and what a gift it is to get to spend one’s later years rediscovering themselves.

 

In effect, Things to Come, despite a melancholy undercurrent swimming underneath every frame, is a quasi feel-good picture. What a rarity it is to see a film character be faced with a plight as undeniably wretched as Chezeaux’s and overcome it without having to break a few glasses first. The film is so centrally optimistic it perhaps eventually turns into something of a delicacy when we begin to realize that not all is going to come crashing down. 

 

As Chezeaux, Huppert is luminous. In a career full of exceptional performances, Things to Come spotlights her at her most understated. Though the feature has been consistently overlooked this past year thanks to Huppert’s more provocative turn in Elle (2016), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, the movie underlines what makes her among the best living actresses — no matter the role, she brings a certain degree of vulnerability to her characterization that ensures our compassion be fervent.

 

The movie also makes for the highest critical peak in the mountain range that is Mia Hansen-Løve’s career. Thirty-six years old and only having only made three films in a span of seven years, she’s something of a wunderkind, and Things to Come cements her standing as a young talent who very well might become a great. The film wears a sort of tattered, delicate sheen that could only be fashioned by a master. Hansen-Løve, assuredly, is one.

 

Things to Come’s lacking of broadly shaded dramatic conflict and its barebones performances might make it seem formless to the less patient of viewers. But look closely and you’ll see the watercolor beauty of this movie: it is a portrait of a woman who loses everything and still conquers. That Huppert and Hansen-Løve can portray that more or less in kitchen-sink style is miraculous.  A

DIRECTED BY

Mia Hansen-Løve

 

STARRING

Isabelle Huppert

Roman Kolinka

André Marcon
Edith Scob
Sarah Le Picard

 

RATED

PG-13

 

RELEASED IN

2016

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 40 Mins.

S

o used to expecting the darkest in things thanks to the frequent pessimism of cinema, I was surprised to find Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come (2016) to not be a tragedy straight from the everyday but rather a story of liberation and empowerment. In it, a philosophy teacher nearing 60, Nathalie Chezeaux (Isabelle Huppert), finds herself having to start all over again after her husband of 25 years (André Marcon) leaves her for a younger woman and after her ailing elderly mother (Édith Scob) succumbs to her various illnesses.