Things to Come (L’avenir)
Mia Hansen-Love, director and script
Starring: Isabelle Huppert (Nathalie), Andre Marcon (Heinz), Roman Kolinka (Fabien), Edith Scob (Yvette), Sara Le Picard (Chloé)
Forget about the title of French director Mia Hansen-Love’s new film L’avenir (Things to Come). The big question should be: is it Isabelle Huppert’s year right now? The acclaimed actress, who is being touted for multiple awards for her performance in the erotic thriller Elle (which was reviewed favourably here two weeks ago) is back in another superb starring role.
Here Huppert is Nathalie, a philosophy professor, whose self-satisfied bourgeois life slowly falls apart. Her husband leaves her for a younger woman and the publishers of her formerly successful books drop her. Worst of all, Nathalie’s relationship with her mother Yvette goes badly awry. When the delusional and suicidal older woman finally does die, even Nathalie abandons her sangfroid for a moment, perhaps realizing that their endless fighting was a masquerade for the love she felt for her mother. Yet, against all logic, Nathalie remains successful: still teaching, becoming a grandmother, keeping up an interesting friendship with her best former student. She refuses to lose.
Huppert’s role in Things to Come bears some resemblance to the more salacious one in Elle. In both, she’s remarkably cool. Even when she’s raped in Elle or loses her husband in Things to Come, she doesn’t get upset. In fact, she reverses expectations throughout both films. Rather than play a victim, Huppert asserts her authority even in dire circumstances, always remaining in control of herself and the majority of the scenes she’s in.
Things to Come won’t have the impact of Elle. Hansen-Love’s scenario is far less melodramatic than Verhoeven’s is in Elle. Let’s face it—the dilemma of a philosophy prof, even a very bright and witty one, doesn’t match the machinations of a video game owner who is dealing with a mysterious sexual predator.
But both films benefit from Isabelle Huppert, one of the finest actresses in the world. She has a commanding presence and plays comic as well as dramatic scenes equally well. At 63, she remains stunningly beautiful. Often compared to Meryl Streep, Huppert is less of a chameleon but both have an uncanny ability to attract and keep a loyal audience of men and women impressed by the integrity they bring to their roles.
For the second time in a month, I urge you to see a new Isabelle Huppert film.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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