When it comes to French films this year, I consider Isabelle Huppert the absolute heavyweight champion. First, she pulled off a captivating performance in the cat and mouse sexual thriller Elle for Paul Verhoeven and now stars in a deep character drama Things To Come. This film is already heavily in the spotlight for critics and international film lovers, as it comes from Mia Hansen-Love, the writer and director behind last year’s EDM-driven film Eden that ended up on a lot of top ten best of lists. Audiences really enjoyed it at the Vancouver International Film Festival, where I saw it, although it may be a bit too quiet for the casual filmgoer.
The film is about Nathalie, a philosophy teacher who is rapidly approaching many different changes in her life. Every morning, just to go to work, she has to cross a student strike line to get into her classroom and once she’s there she is bombarded by hypochondriac calls from her ailing mother. She only sees her husband in fleeting moments filled with intellectual attitude and her kids are moving onward with their own lives. Then the changes hit as her mother passes away, her husband leaves her for another woman and her first grandchild is born. How will Nathalie grow into her new life, already being a strong woman who gave everything for everyone else?
This film was, to me, another beautiful character piece in a series of other great ones at the festival. Huppert brings such knowledge and presence to her films, her newest character Nathalie feeling very worldly and deep. The moment that opens the film, what seems to be the family’s last vacation together, years earlier, seems to set the tone for what she’s about to go through in this story. The husband and kids are very disinterested in the history of the landmark they are visiting, yet Nathalie is captivated, something a bit metaphorical. Hansen-Love brings this same human and emotion growing pains through her directing style, which brings a subtlety to the story arcs so beautifully.
The parallels that are shared between both of Isabelle Huppert’s VIFF films are pretty funny. In both Elle and Things To Come, her characters are dealing with an overbearing mother who eventually succumbs to her ailments. Both are dealing with ex-relationships and their children moving on to parenthood themselves. There is no difference in the strong ways both characters act, yet her role in Elle is more of a duplicitous character, though not in any hurtful way. With strong performances like these, it’s hard to believe that people are still discovering this actress, one that I fell for in I Heart Huckabees, years ago. All said, for a quiet and beautifully flowing night of cinema, you can’t go wrong with Things To Come or anything by Mia Hansen-Love. Highly recommended. 4.5/5