French film “Things to Come” is brimming with the sense of life moving forward for not only its middle-aged heroine but also others around her. Regardless of whether she likes it or not, things are bound to change as life goes on, and the movie is both humorous and touching in its sensitive and thoughtful observation of how she slowly comes to accept that undeniable fact of life as going through what may be another turning point in her life.
For Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert), life has been so far nice and comfortable. She is a respectable philosophy teacher who has taught at an urban high school for many years, and her philosophy textbook has been regarded as a standard one for many schools in France. While we learn that she was once a wild leftist, that was a long time ago, and she is now living comfortably with her husband Heinz (André Marcon) in their cozy middle class apartment decorated with their many philosophy books on bookshelves.
She is a passionate and dedicated tutor always ready to impart her lessons to her young pupils, and she is certainly one of those inspiring teachers who cannot be easily forgotten by their pupils even after they graduate. She is firm, confident, and commanding during her philosophy class, and she is surely unflappable when she confronts a bunch of students demonstrating in front of their school. They think she must join them for protesting against what is unfair for her and other teachers in their opinion, but she does not give a damn about their cause mainly because 1) all she cares about is teaching and 2) she regards their demonstration with sardonic skepticism as a seasoned intellectual who, as she admits at one point, had a fair share of disappointment and disillusionment during that wild time in her past.
The movie lets us observe how this satisfying daily life of hers are slowly disrupted bit by bit through a number of unexpected changes. Her aging neurotic mother Yvette (Édith Scob) has been recently more difficult than usual, and that leads to an amusing incident involved with a fire brigade brought to Yvette’s apartment due to her hilariously desperate attempt to draw the attention of her daughter and others. This tendency of hers does not stop even after Nathalie finally decides to send her mother to a modest asylum for the aged, and then Nathalie finds herself taking care of her mother’s old, fat black cat Pandora even though she has a cat allergy.
Meanwhile, she also must deal with the end of her long married life with Heinz, who decides to leave his wife shortly after their daughter tells him that she knows about her father’s ongoing affair with some other woman. While she is not that mad about her husband’s infidelity, Nathalie is displeased to see many familiar things in her married life going away as a consequence. For instance, she will probably never come to their family summerhouse in Brittany where she has put considerable efforts into its lovely flower garden for years, and she and Heinz come to have a pretty awkward moment when they happen to be together at the summerhouse for different purposes.
And there is Fabian (Roman Kolinka), Nathalie’s favorite pupil who now becomes a philosophy scholar with his own reputation. Their mutual affection is clearly shown right from their casual meeting, but there is also the gap between them, and that looks more evident when Nathalie later visits a rural commune where Fabian lives with his few peers as following his philosophical/political belief which his mentor does not wholly agree with. While being far from her private matters for a while, Nathalie becomes more relaxed than usual, but then, as spending time with Fabian and other young people, she is painfully reminded of the changes she cannot stop or avoid. She is no longer young now, and her academic position is being pushed behind, as reflected by one funny scene where she is told by her publishers on how her proud textbook has been less popular during recent years.
As leisurely doling out small but crucial human moments one by one via its loose, episodic narrative, the movie effortlessly moves around humor and sadness. The scenes between Nathalie and her mother may feel broad at first, but their dysfunctional relationship turns out to be deeper than it seemed. Although he has already been estranged from her, Heinz and Nathalie still know well each other as a couple who lived together for more than 20 years, and their later scene around the ending has a small moment of poignancy as they regard each other as ex-spouses. While visiting Fabian’s place again, Nathalie comes to have what may be the most open-hearted moment between her and her No.1 student, but the following bittersweet scene indirectly reflects how their paths will only be more apart from each other.
It goes without saying that Isabelle Huppert is perfectly cast in the movie, and she is captivating as usual in her flawless performance, which embodies her character’s personal crisis and following emotional journey while never spelling them out too loud. During one brief scene, her character apparently feels sad and devastated, but then she cannot help but amused by what she has just noticed, and we can only admire how Huppert deftly handles this complicated human moment without any false note.
Huppert is surrounded by good supporting performers who respectively bring life and personality into their distinctive characters. While André Marcon, whom I recently noticed from another recent French movie “Marguerite” (2015), is somehow likable and sympathetic with his mostly passive, reserved attitude, Roman Kolinka is an effective counterpart to Huppert during their several key scenes, and Édith Scob definitely has a lot of fun with her colorful character. In case of that cat in the movie, this chubby feline came to earn my affection along the story, and it eventually gets the honor of sharing the bed with Huppert at one point.
The director/writer Mia Hansen-Løve, who won the Silver Bear award for her film at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, did a superlative job of presenting her characters with authentic traits and details, and I was not surprised to learn later that her story was inspired by her mother who was a philosophy teacher. The class scenes in the movie are handled with considerable intelligence, and we can feel the real process of teaching as we watch Nathalie and her students. Some of the dialogues may feel too metaphysical as several famous philosophy figures are mentioned, but we always get the sense that characters know well subjects they talk or discuss about, and even I found myself becoming curious although I usually prefer physical science to metaphysics.
The French title of “Things to Come” is “L’Avenir”, which means “The Future”. As more conscious of her future than before, our heroine becomes more aware of things to go in her life, but then she also comes to see things to come, and that is why the last scene of the movie is quietly powerful with what is shown on the screen. Again, Huppert does not signify much, but the plain but graceful final note of her performance speaks volume, and that is more than enough for us.