As an actress, Isabelle Huppert has blessed us with over 100 roles and just as many different types of characters. Some would say that Huppert has started to play the same bitter, pessimistic character for the last ten years (and I can’t really disagree) but she adds a humanity that many actresses like her couldn’t give. In Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come, Huppert plays a version of that character again, but there’s an exploration of the humanity and pessimism. Hansen-Løve isn’t out to uncover some unseen mystery, but she is looking to discover the psyche of a real woman whose real world has been turned upside down.
Huppert plays Nathalie: mother of two grown children; wife to a man who will soon leave her for a younger woman; daughter to a woman (Edith Scob) who keeps calling firemen over under the guise of death; and teacher to students caught in the middle of a labor strike. Huppert presents Nathalie as a woman content with a life not fully lived. Hansen-Løve frames a life of monotony and exhaustion. The days run long and the people run her down. It’s not until her husband informs her that he’s leaving, and her response is to laugh, that we recognize Things to Come isn’t headed exactly where we think it is.
In Hansen-Løve’s filmography, we’ve been treated to some dreadfully overlong films in desperate need of an edit. These films can be incredibly artful and poetic, but she doesn’t know when enough is enough. At 102 minutes, Things to Come still manages to have that issue. After the third scene of walking through grass and/or mud, the languid pace starts to show and you can feel how stretched for plot the film is. Modern French cinema seems to wander into exhausted territory (see her husband, Olivier Assayas’, last couple films) but she manages to make it just interesting enough to last as long as it does. I guess having Huppert on your side helps.
Despite these moments that don’t seem to add anything to the plot, it’s essential to the mood of the film. Mood and tone are key to having a film like Things to Come work. As Nathalie deals with her mother and her impending death, their scenes are filmed to emphasize the intense patience Nathalie must have in order to be around her. Scob’s performance is wonderfully comedic and sad in a prophetic fashion. As many times as people try, they end up being like their parents more than they will care to admit. Nathalie is slowly realizing that she may become her, but she’s trying as hard as she can to be herself.
It’s not like Things to Come is a bad movie. It just doesn’t feel essential in the Isabelle Huppert filmography and it lacks enough vitality and life to justify its existence. There are plenty of pretty moments in the French countryside and there are many scenes of Huppert rolling her eyes at the situation her character is in. Hansen-Løve loves to let her characters revel in the misery so they can make a choice late in the film that may or may not change them. By extending her films, she allows them to breathe and live past the plot. On the other hand, they end up just stagnating and falling off the narrative deep end. Things to Come is par for the course.
Things to Come
- Acting from Isabelle Huppert and Edith Scob furthers the film to another level of quality
- Atypical gorgeous photography from France
- Loose pacing allows for much needed life
- Aimless wandering goes on for too long despite a short runtime
- Huppert's filmography has shown this type of story many times over