Isabelle Huppert gives another one of her superb performances in “Things to Come,” this time as a Paris philosophy professor whose life suddenly is thrown into disarray when her husband unexpectedly leaves her for another woman after 25 years of marriage. Reality and practicality invade her world of philosophical reasoning.
Huppert’s approach to her character, Nathalie, is a subtle one, the opposite from her more feverish portrayal of the assault victim in “Elle.” We see Nathalie in class inspiring her students. We see her in particular with a favorite, brilliant student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), who has writing aspirations, and whom she visits at a country retreat with his anarchist friends. She both inspires Fabien and takes solace from him, and it is gratifying to see that friendship remains the key without the sort of romantic involvement that would most likely happen in a Hollywood movie.
Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve peppers the film with intelligent talk about books and philosophers and their ideas, which raises the level to maturity as concepts as well as emotions clash. We observe how Nathalie, although deeply hurt by her husband’s betrayal, doesn’t go into histrionics in his presence but absorbs the shock. Only later do we see her private grief. She also exhibits a determination for her life to continue independently, and the projection is that whether or not she falls in love again, she will be strong as a person with self-respect.
Nathalie also has to face the problem of her mother, Ycvette (Edith Scob), in declining health and with irascible behavior, and Nathalie reacts with both annoyance and sympathy. Eventually, she must put her mother in a home, and she is left with her mother’s cat, which she first finds a nuisance but gradually warms to, yet still finds a new home for it. It is a pleasure to watch Huppert in this complex role, and the film itself is gratifying for its depiction of the intellectual milieu. There are also scenes of admirable subtlety, as when her departed husband, Heinz (André Marcon), also a philosophy professor, expects to be able to return at will to visit and although he doesn’t say so, we see on his face that he would like to be invited to holiday dinner. Nathalie doesn’t succumb.
On so many counts “Things To Come” is a very special film, and with a very special star performance from France’s great actress. An IFC Films release. Reviewed December 1. 2016.