Mia Hansen-Løve's THINGS TO COME
Updated through 12/14.
"No spoilers here, as all major obstacles kick in within the first 20 minutes," writes Filmmaker's Vadim Rizov. "From the start, philosophy professor Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is already lacking in equilibrium, since dealing regularly and unexpectedly with her ill mother Yvette (Edith Scob!) sucks away her energy. Very quickly into the film, her very longtime partner Heinz (André Marcon) leaves her for another woman; shortly thereafter, Yvette takes a turn for the substantially worse and has to be put in an assisted care facility. The campus where Nathalie teaches is the site of regular disruptions via student protest, so it’s not like work is a chance to catch her breath: her life is all forward-motion problem-solving and adjustments all the time. And Nathalie just keeps persevering: if Kore-eda Hirokazu hadn’t already claimed the title, Hansen-Løve could easily have called this Still Walking."
"In a conventional Hollywood film, this litany of occurrences would be presented in a wacky just-hang-in-there tone," suggests Tim Grierson, writing for Paste. "Hansen-Løve (Eden, Goodbye First Love) feels the full weight of these dilemmas for their cumulative impact, which Nathalie herself slowly begins to recognize, too. At an age when shedding a skin is no easy process—there’s too many years built up of routine and familiarity—Nathalie has no guarantee that she’s not simply stepping off into an abyss. Things to Come, in other words, is about the pain of letting go while holding onto a hope that there’s something waiting on the other side."
To Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club, "this strikes me as one of her lesser efforts, despite having so many beautiful moments…. Hansen-Løve’s major theme is how we define and change our lives while barely noticing it. But while the intentional lack of forward momentum here produces some unexpected tangents—say, Nathalie going off to stay in a former student’s anarchist commune, bringing along her mother’s obese cat in a carrier—it feels like a step back after the decades-spanning Eden. Of course, I now realize that I thought Eden was a tad underwhelming when I first saw it. Maybe the grade [B] will go up; these movies grow on you."
But for Indiewire's David Ehrlich, this "gentle, gracious, and preternaturally wise new film wends ever closer to Hansen-Løve’s heart as Nathalie stumbles forward through the seasons, one foot in front of the other. Things to Come may lack the urgency or cool that flecks the writer-director’s previous movies, but this is perhaps her richest piece to date, a warm, funny and profoundly sensitive portrait of letting go and learning to make new memories."
For Kristin Thompson, Things to Come "well demonstrates [Hansen-Løve's] mastery of traditional, skillful filmmaking. Her camera is locked down rather than restlessly roaming, with simple reframes to follow actors’ movements. The compositions are impeccable, the editing clearly planned in advance, and the story told in an unobtrusive, clear fashion. I found the film appealing partly because it presents that rare thing, a plausible depiction of the life of an academic."
In his review for Slant, Clayton Dillard doesn't make it easy to find a quote to pull, but it's a piece I definitely recommend, full of sharp observation and insight. Essentially, he discusses the use of music, the sound design overall and Nathalie's relationship with that former student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), to show how Eden and Things to Come "can be seen as flipsides of the same coin."
And now to Isabelle Huppert. When the New York Film Festival opened two weeks ago, she appeared on the cover of the Village Voice; Melissa Anderson wrote the profile: "For the past 45 years, Huppert's brilliant, alert, and alive performances have been the fulcrum of films directed by, to name just a few, Claude Chabrol (the late auteur with whom she made 1988's Story of Women, among many other titles, and with whom she is most closely associated), Jean-Luc Godard (Every Man for Himself, from 1980), Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, 2001), and Claire Denis (White Material, 2009). Huppert excels at creating characters who defy simple assessment, the result, perhaps, of exhibiting agile reflexes while resisting overdetermination. As she explains: 'The joy of doing it is how this miracle is going to repeat, hopefully. Not only every day, but every take.'"
And when Things to Come screened in Toronto, Durga Chew-Bose wrote for the TIFF Review: "Hansen-Løve’s penchant for depicting big dramatic events in one’s life, like reconnecting with an estranged father in All is Forgiven or surviving a parent’s death in The Father of My Children, or surviving the misery of first love in Goodbye First Love, without ever using the ploy of big dramatic tricks, complements Huppert’s knack for emotional pragmatism. When Nathalie’s 25-year marriage dissolves, she is shocked and certainly devastated, but she does not rage. 'I thought you’d love me forever,' she tells her husband, revealing that girl-like quality Huppert has preserved. Just as quick, she adds, 'I’m a goddamn idiot!' before walking out of the room and reinstating the actress's charming severity."
Update: "What Isabelle brought was the possibility," Hansen-Løve tells Taylor Hess at Filmmaker. "Without her in mind, I think I would have been too scared of the darkness and the subject of the film. It was so obvious to me that she had to play this part."
Update, 10/29: "By now we expect great things every time Huppert is onscreen," writes Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail. "But I was still stunned to watch her in back-to-back press screenings of Things to Come and Paul Verhoeven’s wicked, willfully perverse Elle—you couldn’t imagine two films more different in mood and style and approach, but she’s equally believable in both, utterly committed, absolutely in command."
Update, 11/6: Nick Pinkerton in Film Comment: "Hansen-Løve’s film is operating outside the schematic categories of fulfillment and frustration, while her heroine is beyond the illusion of eternal renewal—this in contrast to her mother, whom we see playing the coquette up to the bitter end, a role that Scob and Hansen-Løve give its own sort of dignity. Huppert, wary but never closed off, embodies a woman who knows too well that she has control over nothing beyond the boundaries of her own body and mind, but who retains absolute dominion over that citadel. This is as much victory as is available to most of us before the inevitable defeat: the end is predetermined, but there is work to be done while the light lasts."
Updates, 12/8: Huppert's "work in Things to Come is perhaps most notable for its understatement and its offhand precision, its emotional dynamics that are far more pianissimo than forte," writes Benjamin Mercer for Brooklyn Magazine. "One of the film’s best sequences finds Huppert tramping along a muddy beach in search of an elusive cell signal, barely staying upright through the de facto quicksand (though her call drops anyway). By degrees, Nathalie’s entire day-to-day becomes a sort of balancing act as she tries to reconcile her feelings of abandonment with the dawning realization that she has also, in a sense, been liberated. There is, finally, something quite moving in her relative equanimity: However turbulent the present becomes, she knows it’s also what’s moving her forward."
Interviews with Hansen-Løve: Paul Dallas (Brooklyn Magazine) and Chandler Levack (TIFF Review).
Update, 12/14: Time's Stephanie Zacharek: "Huppert is extraordinary—she reveals everything even when you think she’s showing nothing—and she’s the perfect actress, right now, for Hansen-Løve’s fine-grained perceptiveness. This is the director’s fifth film…, and it may be her finest, a work of exquisite, tensile strength that’s both as glorious and as unassuming as a suspension bridge."