REVIEW: L’avenir [Things to Come] [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 102 minutes | Release Date: April 6th, 2016 (France)
Studio: Les Films du Losange / Sundance Selects
Director(s): Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer(s): Mia Hansen-Løve

“Can we put ourselves in the place of the other”

No one is making movies with as much depth of character as Mia Hansen-Løve—so much depth that you may wonder where the plot is considering everything is hinging on a single trajectory. But that’s how our lives progress. How we experience our own evolution stems from our actions and our interpretations of others’ actions. She focuses on her lead so acutely that we begin to know them as though a long lost friend. We feel for their struggle and hope for their success. In the end, though, we have no control on where they go. We can only control ourselves. And what makes Hanse-Løve’s films so personally resonate to many is her ability to erase her control over the characters she writes. They live on their own.

This was true with Eden, an ode to her brother, and now again with L’avenir [Things to Come], one for her mother. The latter more or less depicts a year in Nathalie Chazeaux’s (Isabelle Huppert) life. A philosophy teacher readying for the comfort of aging with grace amongst family, friends, and career, she’s put the days of revolution and rebellion behind to focus on opening the minds of new generations. She teaches her students to look beyond the normal constraints society has set forth, but not to push them onto any one specific route. Nobody’s better suited to pontificate about a Parisian strike recruiting students to its cause, but she has no desire to do so. She’s teaching them to decide whether the movement is right for themselves.

This means Nathalie can disagree with others and not lose respect of feeling for them. She can appreciate the intelligence of a former student (Roman Kolinka‘s Fabien) even if they differ on philosophical execution beyond similar approaches. She can enjoy the discourse built over twenty-five years of marriage (to André Marcon‘s Heinz) and hundreds of note-filled books lining the shelves in their home while allowing her children (Sarah Le Picard‘s Chloé and Solal Forte‘s Johann) to mock and scoff at them. Nathalie can even wrestle her practical frustration with a depressive mother’s (Edith Scob‘s Yvette) wolf cries for pity against her emotional need to make sure she’s okay. She can do all these things and enjoy every second of it. She’s hit a groove that suits her well.

Well, this is the year where conflict arises to ruin the equilibrium we all eventually believe will last us to the end. Relationships fall apart, death rears its head, and times change. The film therefore becomes a glimpse into one woman’s struggle to remain afloat when no one would blame her for retreating. It’s about embracing the change as a renewed chance at freedom to rebuild her life in an image that is hers alone. It’s about how Nathalie adapts through anger, love, nostalgia, and rebirth. It’s about taking her life back from those she allowed in. There’s less regret than acceptance as the memories remain while the future opens up to make fresh, unique additions. Tragedy doesn’t destroy us. It empowers us to prevail over its tribulations.

And Nathalie is nothing if not empowered. She laughs at the absurdity of the chaos befalling her, cries from the pain of her aching heart, and pushes away over-zealous suitors with an ambivalent air of “not today.” Her philosophical understanding of hopes and dreams as they infer upon reality prepare her for this metamorphosis as well as the keen sense of self being formed within an invisible cocoon. Suddenly what she assumed was coming ceased to be possible, replaced by a life yet to be written. There’s excitement to this. By the time her occupation is put in jeopardy she’s no longer fazed. Why not remove everything from her life but the one thing that will never leave: her intellect and absolute love of letting it inspire others?

This progression is provided by Hansen-Løve with an almost documentary feel. Emotions aren’t overblown and romance isn’t injected with music cues to swoon at. Every new bombshell hits Nathalie with unstoppable force, but she reacts accordingly. She lets pragmatism guide her through this emotional gauntlet, accepting truths others still refuse to grasp. There’s no pitying her—she won’t have that. And she won’t pity those who’ve ignited the firestorm wreaking havoc on her life either because they asked for this. She’d rather cut her loses and move on than lament about what could have been. She’d rather excise the foreign agents that implicitly or explicitly lulled her into a sense of safety and perform the necessary renovations to create that state of being solely from within.

Huppert is magnificent in the role with a simultaneous sense of vulnerability and impenetrability throughout. Even when her steely façade falters she composes herself in stride. She notices a book crucial to her very core is missing, but lets the anger dissipate to buy a new copy instead of tracking down the person who took it. The memories of what got her here may remain, but they’re forever tainted by what became of it all. There’s reason to therefore let the objects she covets shed the marks of time bestowed upon them so they can be rebuilt in her new image as well. Every action is therefore born with fresh eyes until the dust of one last revolution’s upheaval settles to reveal a rejuvenated Nathalie in full control.

Hansen-Løve isn’t interested in melodrama. It’s not about what people are doing to Nathalie, but rather what she does in response. We’re watching a person of immense character and strength weather a storm and come out stronger than ever. I can’t think of any better testament to the love and respect the filmmaker has for her mother than a display of such inspirational vitality able to remind an audience that life is malleable. We live, learn, adapt, and repeat. We bend to the point of breaking before snapping back with a greater sense of purpose. We move forward into an unknown of our own making with new choices to discern and new possibilities to absorb. Rather than haunted by what occurs, Nathalie is emboldened to endure.

courtesy of TIFF

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