It’s hard to believe Isabelle Huppert is 63 years old. Here she plays Nathalie Chazeaux, a Parisian philosophy professor who suddenly faces a mid-life crisis. The screenplay is by writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve who has served up quite a convincing portrait of a sophisticated academic and the world she inhabits. If only Hansen-Løve paid as much attention to her plot as she did with dialogue, then this might have ended up as a certifiable masterpiece. Alas, like many films these days, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Nonetheless, in the early going, Things to Come has great promise. Huppert’s Nathalie is a bundle of energy who stands up to student protesters who attempt to intimidate her students by blocking them from entering the campus and taking her class. Then there are a couple of young book publishers who would like Nathalie to re-write her textbook since it’s no longer selling well. She not only resists the re-write but opposes a sleek new design they rather untactfully advocate.
The break into the second act occurs when Nathalie’s daughter confronts her father with the knowledge that he’s been having an affair, and demands that he either stay with her mother or leave her for the other woman. The husband named Heinz (André Marcon) is also a professor but a bit of a wet fish who decides to leave Nathalie, prompting the aforementioned mid-life crisis.
At this juncture, one prepares for some unexpected or perhaps suspenseful things to happen with Nathalie, but sadly they never come. Much is made of Nathalie’s relationship with her former student, Fabien, who retreats to the mountains and lives with a small commune of anarchists who also happen to be graduate or former graduate students. On her first visit to see Fabien after the breakup with her husband, Nathalie is most concerned about her house cat who has wandered off into the woods. Fabien reassures her that the cat will return out of “instinct,” and Fabien’s promise foreshadows the direction Nathalie ultimately takes in response to the new path she’s forced to take in life.
Nothing happens between Nathalie and her ex-husband either except for Nathalie giving him a continual cold shoulder after he leaves her for the other woman. Nathalie’s anger is understandable but she chooses not to look for a new man since she asserts she’s too set in her ways at this point to make a new relationship work. Casual sex is also out of the question especially after a creep follows her out of a movie theater and boorishly plants a kiss on her lips right out on the streets.
Things to Come is best described as a “slice of life,” but even the most basic of dramas need some kind of twist that takes us out of the ordinary (albeit for at least a single moment of enlightenment or epiphany). Here Hansen-Løve is content to have her protagonist reject a new direction and embrace the mundane. Indeed Nathalie follows her “instinct” by becoming a good grandmother, upon the birth of her first grandchild.
For some critics Hansen-Løve’s sophistry is wrapped up in the narrative’s “subtlety.” Others may find that subtlety is simply a code word for lack of clever plotting—leading to a fitful conclusion that character arcs should never be associated with the moniker of the mundane.