With her fifth film, Things to Come, writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve creates an ideal role for France’s greatest living actress, and solidifies her own lofty position among the contemporary filmmakers of a country where mature cinematic narratives still seem vibrant and essential. The movie, whose less poetic but perhaps more appropriately equivocal French title is L'Avenair (the future), stars Isabelle Huppert as Nathalie Chazeaux, a Parisian philosophy professor whose well-ordered life gets shaken up by a series of unextraordinary but formidable events. Her aging mother’s health is failing, her husband is having an affair, her relationship with her grown children is undergoing changes, and she’s regarded with diminishing prestige in the ever more market-driven world of academia. None of this seems to phase the methodical, hyper-intellectual Nathalie, but over the course of the film the peerless Huppert effortlessly and often wordlessly conveys the minute shifts in how Nathalie perceives the world and her place in it.
The thirty-five year old Hansen-Løve (whose previous work as a writer/director include The Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love, and her one movie I could not connect with, Eden) offers deep insights beyond her years as to how people think and act at various stages of life. Formerly an actress herself, she requires her actors to express a wide range of emotions without big expository speeches or opportunities to showcase strong emotions. (Huppert easily gets my vote for best performances by an actress in a lead role this year, but the nearest thing to an Oscar show clip is a silent, comedic bit in which she angrily stuffs an ornate bouquet of flowers into a trash bin—hardly the kind of thing Academy voters usually go for.) This is a performance and a picture open to multiple interpretations, speculations, and musings by audiences who thrive on the kind of textured, astutely observed, minimalist story telling at which this gifted filmmaker excels.