Just like starting over. That’s the name of a John Lennon song but it’s also a line that could be used to sum up the French film, Things To Come (L’avenir). The story is a subtle character study about a middle-aged woman and how she negotiates a bunch of set-backs with a kind of understated and inspired dignity.
This film is written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve (Eden) and is based on Hansen-Løve’s mother. Things To Come stars Isabelle Huppert who is familiar to cinemagoers on account of her recent Best Actress nomination for the film, Elle. There is no question that Huppert carries this film because she puts in a playful and moving performance as her character is forced to face a number of different elements that are thrown up by life. Most people say that the only certainty we have is death and taxes but Things To Come proves that there is one other thing that is inevitable and that is change- because even if we don’t seek this out personally it is often imposed on us, as is the case here.
Huppert plays Nathalie Chazeaux a woman who has been living a relatively comfortable and charmed life. She was more outspoken and radical in her youth but some of these ideas have been tempered as she grew older. She has recently been living happily and working as a philosophy teacher and being defined as a wife and mother of two children. But these previously held notions about herself begin to unravel due to numerous events.
The biggest thing is that Chazeaux’s husband of 25 years falls for a younger woman and is wanting a divorce. This is shattering news for Chazeaux because she had assumed that they would be together forever. Chazeaux’s mother Yvette Lavastre (Edith Scob) is also proving difficult. As Lavastre enters senility she becomes possessive of her daughter and attention-seeking (there are frequent fake calls made to the fire brigade, among other things.) Eventually Chazeaux places her mother into aged-care and in doing so, inherits her mother’s surly cat (even though she is allergic to cats.)
There are also changes in Chazeaux’s children’s lives as they start college and another one gives birth, meaning that Chazeaux is now a grandmother. Chazeaux suddenly finds herself with more free time and freedom than ever before- but she is also unsure whether she actually wants this. The story also touches on Chazeaux’s professional life with her book publishers falling out of favour with her work on account of declining sales and there is also a hint of a romance with a former student (a gorgeous, Roman Kolinka.)
Things To Come is a slow-burning and gentle character study about life, loss, love and the passage of time. It’s a story that unfolds in a rather human and realistic manner as it focuses on the minutiae that permeates daily life. This episodic and expressive film is ultimately a quiet meditation on a middle-age existential crisis as well as one woman’s vulnerability and turmoil.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Things To Come opens in Australian cinemas on April 27.