Things to Come: Seriously Compromised


Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Les Films de Losange, 102 minutes, PG-13. In French with subtitles.

Things to Come has captured quite a few film awards. Mia Hensen-Løve won the Best Director award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and critics in both New York and London chose Isabelle Huppert as Best Actress for her work in this film. I am at a complete loss to understand why. My only guess is that critics somehow believe that the film's anachronistic messages are still relevant, not decades past their sell-by date.

Nathalie Chazeaux (Huppert) teaches philosophy at a Paris high school and, in her spare time, dotes on a former protégé, Fabien (Roman Kolinka). She is intellectually satisfied, has a thriving career as a textbook writer/editor, is the mother of two adult children, and dwells in a tidy Paris home with her husband Heinz (André Marcon), a university philosophy professor. The two share an abiding love in all things deep and academic. The only seeming complication is that Nathalie has a needy, elderly mother, whom she treats as more of an annoyance than as a concerned daughter/caregiver.

As such films go, things fall apart. Heinz leaves Nathalie for a younger woman, her mother dies, and she inherits a cat named Pandora to whom she is allergic (or so says the script, though Nathalie shows no outward signs of being so). Allegorically speaking, we are about to open Pandora's box. Nathalie even loses her job with the publishing house, which suddenly discovers there really isn't much of a market for a firm that only sells philosophy books. Hello! This has been the case since the 1970s. Sorry, but I can't believe that anyone in the 21st century is making big royalties from publishing cheap paperback philosophy tracts. Nor do I believe that it took France 40 years to discover that academic presses aren't goldmines. But for now, let's assume that any of this is remotely plausible. Nathalie's reaction to her snowballing misfortunes? "The future seems compromised."

If only this were the singular thing in this film that was compromised. It plays like Woody Allen at his worst. As in Allen's films, no one in Things to Come speaks like a normal human being. This is certainly the case of Nathalie's high school students, all of whom seem to be like Jean-Paul Sartre in teen garb. Moreover, Natalie's laconic acceptance for her new reality strikes all of the wrong notes, even though we are supposed to imagine that she has been freed to pursue an authentic existential self. I have lived an academic life and I have seen intellectuals dissolve their relationships. Can I just say that most of these partings are more Nietzsche than Sartre?

I get the fact that Nathalie is stuck in 1968, the year France was in rebellion, students like she were at the barricades, and the French Fifth Republic nearly tumbled. I also know that the ideas were taken very seriously back that. Keywords: back then. Nathalie isn't a Marxist gamine anymore; she lives the bourgeois life she loves to critique. In like manner, Fabien fancies himself an anarchist but he's really, as Heinz points out, an impolite leech. Nathalie later visits him at a self-styled anarchist commune tucked among the Rhône-Alpes peaks that replicates some of the worst 60s-style chauvinism. Other than that, it seems more like a ski chalet than a commune.

A scene that makes even less sense takes place in the Paris movie theater, where a man gropes Nathalie. Who the hell is he? A former lover? A pervert? We never find out. When Nathalie storms out of the movie, the man follows her, but never says a word before sulking off when Nathalie yells, "I'm not in the mood." This is a creepy scene with a distressingly trite resolution.

You don't need to be a philosophy major to figure out this film's themes. Natalie is an aging 50s-something woman on the cusp of losing her desirability. (She's actually 64.) Her daughter and her child represent the continuation of her physical life and Fabien and his circle are symbolic of her intellectual legacy. Natalie needs to reinvent herself for the final phase of her life, lest she end up like her whiny mother. All of this is so heavy-handed that this film can be said to be seriously compromised.

Rob Weir

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