Film Review: The Ordinary is Spellbinding in "Things To Come"
The two most cinematically dramatic moments in Things To Come come about in unusual ways: The first happens about 20 minutes in and the second occurs off-screen. It's important to note because the film is less concerned with the events that rip apart a person's life and is infinitely more preoccupied with how one could or should live after such terrible events. This subtle distinction allows for writer/director Mia Hansen-Love to leave aside a story that easily lends itself to a simple 3 act formula and instead opts to assiduously weave a textured narrative that's unpredictable, humane, and thought provoking.
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert – perfect, brittle) is a philosophy professor who, at 45 years old, leads a life that seems to be running along smoothly. Her two young adult children are happy and healthy; her husband Heinz (Andre Marcon) is a fellow academic; her mother, Yvette (Edith Scob) is a self-centred, terminally anxious woman, but Nathalie takes that in stride. She even successfully reconnects with a former favourite student of hers, intellectual anarchist, Fabien (Roman Kalinka) – and the though the two live quite differently – just for starters, he by the mountains, she by the city – they enjoy a warm and rewarding friendship that skirts around the edges of a flirtation.
However her life rapidly approaches crisis mode when her husband meekly announces he is leaving her for another lover, her mother's already ill-health further deteriorates and as result she inherits a handsome black cat, Pandora, to whom she's allergic, and her publishing house, quite eager to go along with the dumbing down of the times, is quietly squeezing her out. Things To Come, by stripping Nathalie of everything, grants her ultimate freedom. The real interest is in how this intelligent and healthy woman will approach that freedom.
In particular, the appearance of the black cat during times of sudden personal upheaval called to mind Inside Llewyn Davis, another film that similarly approaches the unsettling vagaries of life with sensitivity and cruel humour. Although while Inside Llewyn Davis is peppered with 60s American folk music, Things To Come's music is drawn from vividly realised characters wittily exchanging differing philosophies – and the occasional cruel barb to provide an unexpected burst of comedy.
Things To Come is bolstered by the terrific Isabelle Huppert, who is apparently chronically incapable of giving a boring performance. Much like her turn in last year's Elle, Huppert gives away nothing, and refuses to do so with such ease that it's easy to mistake her for cold and aloof. But she always subtly suggests inner turmoil and sadness that will sometimes, devastatingly, crack her porcelain composure. This is a marvellous showcase of her talents.