Magnetic Gallic star Isabelle Huppert portrays an aging philosophy teacher who goes through a series of career bad news, personal dilemmas and family tensions. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
When you open a movie with a vacationing family visiting a historical grave on a coastal hill that looks ready to collapse into the sea, you’ve handed the audience a pretty clear hint: Trouble’s coming.
In the French slice-of-life saga “Things to Come,” writer/director Mia Hansen-Love follows an aging philosophy teacher through a series of career bad news, personal dilemmas and family tensions. But just as the memorial crypt has been battered by ocean waves for centuries without collapse, the intelligent woman at the center of the story is hard to topple.
As played by the indispensable Gallic star Isabelle Huppert, Nathalie is a tough cookie, glimpsed with affection and admiration. A respected intellectual at the local college, she’s learned a lot about life’s challenges by the time we meet her.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Things to Come,’ with Isabelle Huppert, Edith Scob, André Marcon. Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love. 100 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French and German, with English subtitles. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
Her elderly mother (Edith Scob) is a serious piece of work, using drama-queen suicide threats to get Nathalie to visit, then treating her like nothing special when she arrives. Her standoffish husband, another philosophy-department academic, remains a question beyond the limits of her comprehension. After a quarter-century of marriage and two children, she doesn’t expect much more from their home life than complacency and sniping, awkward conversation.
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Their grown children are moving on, and the students coming into her classroom are more concerned about day-to-day politics than school. Adding ego insult to injury, her publisher is pushing her signature textbook, now selling poorly, toward the remainder bin. Worse still, she’s charged for picking up copies she used to receive for free.
And yet. Nathalie has a deep reserve of poise and common sense that, combined with Huppert’s camera magnetism, make her impossible to write off. As life and society evolve around her, so does she.
While full-bore happy endings have been too hackneyed for French cinema since 2001’s “Amélie,” Nathalie deals with life’s endless obstacles with disenchantment, not despair. When she encounters adversity, it’s a roadblock, not a setback. “I thought you’d love me forever,” she replies to her husband’s announcement that he has a lover.
There’s no real catharsis here, but many witty, unexpected surprises with the bittersweet ingredients of real life.
The ending, with Nathalie cradling her first grandchild in her arms, can be interpreted multiple ways. But the late scene where she climbs a sunny hill to look at the fields below feels a lot more hopeful than that opening with her sightseeing on the abyss.