Things to Come [L’avenir]

(France/Germany 2016)

“My life isn’t over. Deep down, I was prepared. I’m lucky to be fulfilled intellectually.”

—Nathalie

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

102 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

http://www.thingstocomefilm.com

20th Century Women

(USA 2016)

“We are at a turning point in our history.”

—President Jimmy Carter

I was a little kid in the Seventies, but I have many indelibly vivid memories of the decade: huge cars, gas lines, expensive meat, hijacked planes, Sanka and Sweet’N Low, smoking everywhere, hard rock, punk rock, disco, macrame, spider plants, the Bicentennial, Sky Lab, Victoriana (we had Mucha posters in our mustard-colored kitchen), that strange Holly Hobby aesthetic. It seems like it all changed immediately when Reagan took office in 1981.

20th Century Women captures a slice of American life on that unique, unremembered and largely disowned cusp. Set as a flashback to 1979 with voiceovers that repeatedly remind us that we’re looking backward, the film is a rather remarkable time capsule. The story is simple: Dorothea (Annette Bening) is my grandparents’ age (born in 1924). She had her only son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), late in life—i.e., over age 40. She’s been divorecd for a few years, which was fine until Jamie hit puberty. Now, she needs help understanding him. She enlists his two closest allies—Julie (Elle Fanning), whose pants he wants to get into, and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a postpunk fuckup—to help her figure him out.

Loosely based on actual events from director and writer Mike Mills’s childhood, 20th Century Women is fun to watch. Growing up in a house of females myself, I relate to a lot of his experiences. I loved all the Talking Heads, too. Oh!—and Siouxsie and the Banshees! That said, this film borders on overbearing with its nostalgia. It could’ve been so much better—the material and the talent are both there, but Mills goes for easy returns that don’t pay off. The story falls flat. Perhaps a quote from Bening in an earlier film, the superior and far more interesting Running with Scissors, succinctly sums up my problem here: “It’s shit, Fern. It’s sentimental. It’s emotionally dishonest. It implodes into nothingness.”

I wasn’t bored, and I didn’t hate 20th Century Women. But I’m never going to see this movie again. Too bad, because the acting is great. It’s a misfire due to its execution. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Also starring Billy Crudup, Vitaly Andrew LeBeau, Curran Walters, Toni Christopher, Jimmy Carter (public domain footage)

Produced by Annapurna Pictures, Archer Gray, and Modern People

Distributed by A24

119 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) C

http://20thcenturywomen-movie.com