Film Review: Things to Come (L’Avenir)

This latest effort from writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve is drawn from the life of her own mother and built upon another subtly powerful turn by star Isabelle Huppert, who’s rarely been better in what proves to be one of her quietest and stillest performances.

Huppert’s 50-something Nathalie Chazeaux is a philosophy professor (just like the director’s Mum) in Paris, and she’s got quite a lot going on. Introduced against a backdrop of student protest, with demonstrators trying hard to sound like they’re harking back to 1968, Nathalie is a woman who believes in big ideas and has devoted her life to teaching. She doesn’t realise that everything is about to undergo radical change (as everything often does in this filmmaker’s work).

First, there’s a meeting with yes-men-and-women publishers who want to change her always-in-print philosophy book (give it a “pedagogical makeover” according to the subtitles), and then there’s her mother Yvette (Édith Scob), who’s losing her marbles and continually calls Nathalie for help. Nathalie’s husband of 25 years, the sour Heinz (André Marcon), accuses her of allowing this co-dependent relationship to bloom, but he later reveals his own psychological foible: he’s been having an affair, he’s moving out and the marriage is over. One of Huppert’s great moments here is when she ruefully states, “But I thought you would love me forever. What a fool.”

One of Nathalie’s favourite former students, the hunky Fabien (Roman Kolinka), has also reappeared, and he talks with her about her sudden new freedom (grown-up kids, absent spouse, mother in care) as they stroll about summery Paris, and you wonder if something romantic is afoot. Or is Hansen-Løve not going to allow her protagonist such a simple happy ending?

Following a stubbornly rational woman trying to cope as her life takes irrational turns, this is all about Huppert’s Nathalie, who’s allowed to be unashamedly intellectual here in a manner unusual in any film – French or otherwise. And what does the title mean? Things To Come or The Future (L’Avenir)? Is it a warning? What is in Nathalie’s future? Old age? More chaos? The loss of her brilliant mind? It can’t be good.

Rated M. Things to Come (L’Avenir) is in cinemas now

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