Isabelle Huppert is having quite the year. She has been generating Oscar buzz for her performance in Paul Verhoeven's controversial rape thriller Elle (review for that one later), was the focus of a highly anticipated retrospective at TIFF, and stars in two other films that will hit American theaters this year. One of those films is Things to Come, the latest from acclaimed filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love, the director of Eden and Goodbye First Love. The film was an instant hit at the Berlin Film Festival back in February, and arrived at TIFF last week on a wave of positive reviews. And for the most part, I can understand why. It's a well-acted, well-directed, easy-going drama. Unfortunately, I can't say that I ever tuned into its wavelength in any meaningful way. Hansen-Love's emphasis on character and humanity is admirable, but with an excess of subplots, a relentlessly dour mood, and a lack of emotional impact, Things to Come doesn't quite hit the mark.
Nathalie Chazeauk (Huppert) is a middle-aged philosophy teacher in France, and at the start of the film, she's dealing with an uprising of students who are protesting outside the school building. She's annoyed by their persistence, but it soon turns out that the young protesters are the least of her problems. In a very short amount of time, Nathalie learns that her husband (played by Andre Macon) is cheating on her with a younger woman, that her mother is dying, and that her books aren't selling well, which could result in the loss of her job. To deal with this trauma, Nathalie reconnects with a brilliant student of hers, the charming Fabien (Roman Kolinka), who belongs to a group of anarchists and anti-establishment critical thinkers. Nathalie finds hope in her relationship with this group, and over the course of a year, she may just learn that there's much more to life beyond what has happened already.
Huppert is a great actress, and she's able to pull off this incredibly difficult part with ease. There's a graceful sensibility that she brings to this role, and she gives Nathalie an iron will and an unbreakable soul that I think will connect with a lot of people. Nathalie undergoes so many brutal and punishing things throughout this film, and it's a testament to Huppert's performance that things never get too downbeat. She's able to find the right combination of strength, humanity, and humor, and it keeps the movie afloat at times. Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, and Andre Macon all deliver solid supporting performances, but from start to finish, there's no question that this is Isabelle Huppert's show. Even though her flashier performance in Elle is gaining more momentum with awards pundits, she's equally impressive here.
Hansen-Love is a thoughtful, contemplative director, and her style permeates every frame of this film. She has a spectacular cinematic eye and a keen sense of atmosphere and location, which works well here. However, in Things to Come, she never really buckles down to tell a focused story. She simply lets the film unfold as the characters engage and interact naturally. Sometimes this stylistic choice works, and other times, it causes the film to feel incredibly meandering. The script is ultimately the main point of concern, as there's simply too much going on and too little time. For a movie that only runs 100 minutes, Things to Come is quite the sprawling journey, with a wide variety of side plots and one-off stories that feel slighted.
Let me elaborate on that. In Things to Come, three things that happen to Nathalie are fundamental to the plot- she loses her job, she loses her mother, and she loses her husband. Those tragedies happen in quick succession of each other, and I really feel like the film would have been fine with just one of those events. The myriad of awfulness both suffocates the audience and hinders the focus of the film, which is forced to jump back and forth between these different stories. The film is also hesitant to truly delve deep into the relationship between Nathalie and Fabien, preferring to leave things ambiguous. The audience is left with plenty of questions there, and when you mix that in with the sometimes pretentious philosophizing that dominates large chunks of the movie, you have a serious problem on your hands.
Maybe you can chalk up Things to Come as a good movie that I just didn't appreciate, but I do think that there are some serious problems that many are ignoring. The story meanders, the character motivations don't always feel clear, and the film is overstuffed. If Hansen-Love had given herself a bit more time to play with these characters and their emotions, we might have a more resonant, fascinating film on our hands. Nonetheless, fans of the director and Huppert will be pleased, and I have to imagine that the story will play well with the arthouse crowds. It's a competent, crafty film on many levels, but with a disappointing screenplay and a scattered narrative, Things to Come ends up being less than the sum of its parts.
THE FINAL GRADE: C+ (6.2/10)
Image Credits: IMDB