“My life isn’t over. Deep down, I was prepared. I’m lucky to be fulfilled intellectually.”
A line from Talking Heads’ song “Once in a Lifetime” is apt to describe the root of the dramatic tension in Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film: “Well, how did I get here?” Things to Come is a character study of Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert), a philosophy professor at an unnamed Paris university, as she navigates and reinvents her place in the world after her bourgeois examined life suddenly transforms into something else and leaves her floundering in the process.
Nathalie’s passion for her work is clear beyond her career: her husband of 25 years, Heinz (André Marcon), is also a philosophy professor; the textbook she wrote is something of a standard; and her apartment is crammed with books. Even her everyday conversation is peppered with references to philosophers, some I know and other I have never heard of. Her two adult children can follow her when she goes on about, oh, say, Plato, as she sets the table. She seems like someone who has always relied on intellect and reason.
The protesters blocking access to campus early in the film hint to something amiss; Nathalie participated in her share of protests back in the day, but this is different. Selfish, perhaps? One day, Heinz announces that he’s leaving her for another woman. “I thought you would love me forever,” Nathalie responds in a way that reads more like examining a problem than expressing surprise or hurt. Soon, her needy mother (Edith Scob) takes a turn for the worst, leaving Nathalie to figure out what to do with the cat. Meanwhile, her publisher informs her that her textbook’s future is uncertain. Then there’s the matter of her reunion with a former student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a cute and promising writer living in an anarchists’ commune.
Things to Come is very much about change, both in circumstances and relationships. Hansen-Løve takes a decidedly distant approach, letting us watch things unfold from afar. She’s not detached; she just seems more interested in showing the small events that shape Nathalie’s journey and letting us figure out the big picture. It works really well. Choosing “Unchained Melody” for the background in the final scene is especially clever; it’s clear about where Nathalie is on an emotional level, yet it’s open to interpretation about whether the future holds good things for her. It’s a happy, hopeful ending if you want it to be.
With Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Rachel Arditi, Yves Heck
Production: Arte France Cinéma, CG Cinéma, Detail Film, Rhône-Alpes Cinéma
Distribution: Les Films du Losange, Palace Films
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B