Things to Come is writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s fifth feature film. It stars Isabelle Huppert, though her performance in this film has, perhaps unfairly, been overshadowed by her other 2016 hit, Elle. In Things to Come, Huppert plays a middle aged philosophy professor named Nathalie who seems to be facing an extraordinary number of challenges. Whether it be divorce, her struggling mother, her students’ political protests, or any other number of things, it seems that Nathalie is destined not to catch a break.
Huppert’s performance is striking in its subtlety. Even in the most dire of emotional states, Nathalie never seems to behave in an over the top manner. It is true that film is not only about struggle, its protagonist is graced with positive windfall as well, but for the most part Nathalie is certainly going through what would be described as a difficult period in her life. It’s worth noting that while the film focuses on a middle aged woman with grown children, Hansen-Løve is only 35. Her insight into the character is made all the more fascinating when viewing it through this lens. It really shows the capacity for sympathy that she has as a writer, to construct a character study of such depth that may be somewhat outside of her own scope of experience.
Many of Nathalie’s relationships are shown evolving throughout the film, but arguably the most significant is with her former student Fabien (Roman Kolinka). The relationship never has any romantic overtones, a trope that a lesser film may have fallen into, but she seems to value their intellectual exchanges in a way that she simply doesn’t with other people. During several scenes in the film, she is staying at Fabien’s farm in the mountains. Hansen-Løve takes advantage of the beautiful scenery, shooting some of the film’s most impressive moments by simply placing her characters in an evocative setting.
Nathalie’s characterization is pivotal to the film’s success, which is why Love and Huppert’s chemistry is so clear. Nathalie is not a perfect protagonist, nor is she an entirely likable protagonist at times. She feels remarkably human, and she makes decisions that may place her in a gray area in the eyes of the audience. This does not, however, make it difficult to sympathize with her. If anything, this disagreement makes her a more sympathetic character, as she never feels perfect or superhuman nor does she ever entirely feel like a victim, even when unfortunate circumstances befall her.
The beauty of Things to Come can be mostly boiled down to its honesty. The film never descends into melodrama. Nathalie feels like a real person, reacting to real situations. Major events in her life unfold, and she simply reacts and moves on. Sometimes these situations pour over into each other, sometimes they are isolated. The film isn’t happy. It isn’t sad. It just is.