“Can we put ourselves in the place of others?” So begins Nathalie Chazeaux’ (Isabelle Huppert) opening statement, revealing of what stark realities lie underneath the exterior appearances of a happy family as they travel to the island of Grand Bé. Early on in the film, we see Nathalie watching her family walk distantly ahead of her, an insinuation of what lies in her not-so-distant future.
The plot follows the life of an enthusiastic middle-aged Philosophy professor Nathalie, who lives with her husband Heinze (André Marcon) and two children (Sarah Le Picard and Solal Forte). Her youthful idealism is made evident at work in the philosophical discussions and confrontations she has with her students while her role at home centres around her moral duty and emotional attachment towards her husband, children and an ageing mother.
Ever enthusiastic and committed on both fronts, Nathalie shares an ardent bond with everyone and in particular, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a favourite former student whose outlook on life and philosophical values mirror her own.
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How her seemingly balanced and routine life soon starts falling apart and the ensuing test of her resilience forms the major crux of the rest of the story.
The gradual situation of her being a spectator to her own withering story, as she experiences her world slowly crumble, leads her to questioning her life — the complexity in her relationships and how that eventually results in their separations. Her mid-life crisis leads to more questions about what next in her bourgeois life and that is beautifully presented without the usual stereotypical trappings. That is where Things To Come stands out from films in the similar genre.
Director Mia Hansen-Løve, known for her popular works like Eden (2014), Goodbye First Love (2011) goes an extra mile with this one even as Things To Come stands quite in resemblance with her previous works that explore the aspects of personal crisis, family relationships, existentialism resulting in eminent re-examining of one’s own decisions.
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Her penchant for incorporating socio-political effects from France’s history is quietly revealing in the constant references to Rousseau and in discussions of Nathalie’s past endeavours as a socialist. The influences of the new wave of storytelling, popularized by legendary French directors like Jean Luc-Godard and Olivier Assayas are clearly visible in Things to Come.
Though I’m not a fan of her previous works as I found the narratives too bland and predictable, the complexities that arise in each scene in this film help viewers empathise for the loss experienced by the protagonist. This is one of the most significant aspects of Things To Come.
Director Mia Hansen-Løve complements the life and decisions of her characters using slight emotional shifts often juxtaposed with sudden climactic events to advance her narrative.
The slow-paced visuals with little or no background score took some getting used to but largely compliment the free flowing narrative structure. The ever reliable Isabelle Huppert is brilliant following on from her good work in Elle and finds a worthy opposite in Roman Kolinka. Their muted chemistry is refreshingly novel as both of them contemplate their future while visiting the countryside. The rest of the cast members including Andre Marcon do justice with the little material they have.
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Cinematographer Denis Lenoir uses direct mid frames to showcase the character’s emotional vulnerability, especially illustrated in a scene where Nathalie is distraught having caught her husband with his love interest as she is travelling on a bus.
Mia resists the urge to depict this scene in expectant cliches rather relying on the film’s subtext to effectively communicate the unwelcome homecoming of a brutal truth. This reality is recalled upon with the passing of Yvette (Édith Scob), Nathalie’s mother whose demise brings upon a deep regret within Nathalie. In a rather dark vocalisation of Nathalie’s predicament, it is announced that “the future is compromised.”
The film culminates with Nathalie’s ascension to rebuilding her life in a realistic believable manner avoiding any pitfalls of a phoenix like resurgence. Holding her newborn grandson while singing a lullaby, the final shot of Natalie declares that perhaps, the future is not exactly compromised.
By Sarang Jayaraj
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