Forget that tired blueprint of inspirational mid-life crisis film tropes à la Eat Pray Love; in Mia Hansen-Løve's refreshingly real Things to Come, it's not so much that protagonist Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) doesn't recognize society's unforgiving attitude towards fully-grown women — she even reminds a friend that "after 40, [we're] fit for the trash" — but she's never given much thought to being the object of male lust.
An inspired philosophy teacher at a Parisian high school, the 50-something Nathalie is just as committed to exploring and unearthing bold ideas with her pupils as she is to sharing life with her (very bourgeois) husband, providing for her two teenage kids and putting out the many fires her rambunctious, rapidly aging mother starts. So when her future becomes "compromised" as her publisher forewarns, the path to freedom she slowly carves out becomes rooted in knowledge and personal emancipation.
After training her lens on the vagaries of youth in her previous films (Eden, Goodbye First Love), Hansen-Løve's fifth feature delves into the psychological complexities of a grown woman whose life is grounded in thrilling intellectual pursuits. Her children are soon leaving the nest, her publishing contract is coming undone and her husband is leaving her for another woman, but the most harrowing bits of it all for Nathalie are the newfound gaping holes in her many bookshelves, the philanderer having even decamped with her prized, annotated copies of Emmanuel Levinas. The bastard.
Huppert, who's in the spotlight this fall for her fearless performance in Paul Verhoeven's rape-revenge thriller Elle (France's entry for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar), is at her understated best in Things to Come, conveying a fascinating amalgam of ferocious freedom, incremental spells of solitude and wounded grace at any given moment.
The film is unmistakably French in ways you'll either love or loathe. For instance, Nathalie's pupils regularly ponder over the future of society with Nouvelle Vague-ian ardour, and her protégé-turned-radical-writer Fabien (Roman Kolinka) drops the bulk of his publishing pursuits to go make cheese in a remote philosophical commune.
If you can look past these slightly precious elements, though, Things to Come offers a riveting and uniquely levelheaded portrait of a woman embracing a chance to reboot, with a lifetime of intellectual insights serving as her backbone. (Films We Like)