THINGS TO COME (Mia Hansen-Løve). 98 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (December 2). See listing. Rating: NNNN
I wonder what it would have been like to see Things To Come and Elle on the same day at a film festival.
Both are tony, well-appointed French dramas starring Isabelle Huppert as a middle-aged Parisian woman whose comfortable life is up-ended by events beyond her control. But that’s about all they have in common. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is about the imposition of violence and its subsequent compartmentalization (if not outright repression), while Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come – in addition to being far gentler in its presentation – is about a woman who becomes a complete person.
Writer/director Hansen-Løve follows her decades-spanning film Eden with a smaller, more intimate and considerably more affecting character study. Huppert’s Nathalie, a philosophy teacher and author, must face a divorce and an uncertain future.
If you come to this movie after the more volatile Elle, you might unconsciously brace yourself for something awful. But Things To Come is an oddly calm film: everyone is an adult, after all. Apartments are procured, Nathalie and her ex (André Marcon) split up their books, other complications arise and are dealt with in turn. Nathalie hangs out with her students a little. She looks in on her ailing mother (Edith Scob, another French legend). She explores her options. And slowly we notice her relationship to the world is changing.
Hansen-Løve doesn’t try to force drama out of a given scene. She has one of the greatest actors of her generation in the frame, so all she needs to do is observe as her magnificent star finds the tension or emotion in the moment, as lifelong intellectual Nathalie gradually realizes life can only be analyzed for so long before you actually have to live it.
It’s nothing like Elle at all. Huppert might as well be a different actor. That’s the thrill of it, really.