THINGS TO COME
(2016, Mia Hansen-Love)
[4 out of 5 stars]
[Part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2017. Click here for details.]
The movie with many endings. Philosophy teacher Nathalie (a sagacious performance by Isabelle Huppert) is left behind by her husband of 25 years after he meets a younger woman. She also loses a loved one and her work too looks like its nearing its end. There are micro-closures in between. Each scene seems dedicated to something no more.
When the film opens, we see her frustrated as she pushes through a group of students who are protesting outside the school where she teaches. It's not that she is against what they are doing, it's that she used to be like them but is no longer. No more.
It sounds depressing on paper but is surprisingly revitalising. Nathalie declares at one point that she has never felt more free despite all that she has lost. In a way that's what real freedom is. To be loosened from certain responsibilities and given a new, freshly primed piece of canvas to work with. The blankness eliciting both terror and liberty.
Mia Hansen-Love's directorial style is marked by this feeling of extrication. While some people may meander in this freedom and never know when to quit, as in her previous feature EDEN, where an aspiring DJ continues to do what he loves well past his expiry date. Here, Nathalie takes this freedom and at first doesn't know what to do with it, but Huppert's captivating expressions indicate a woman ready to surge ahead.
The editing produces an asyndetic structure. Hopping and jumping between scenes, it takes a while to calibrate oneself with what is happening. By the film's end though, this collaged scenes of endings creates its own kind of philosophy - and beginning.
Philosophy consoles not only by enlightenment but by providing closure in one of life's harsh, inconvenient truths. Turning the light off inside a tiny room in one's brain that is preoccupied in perceiving the world in a destructive, useless, or misguided way. Reading Sontag's On Interpretation, for example, quieted the part of my mind that compulsively wanted to attach, decode or unearth representational meaning on symbols in art. Rousseau on man's artificial needs dampened my desire to satisfy my individual "needs" because of its effects on inequality - I'm still working on this one.
As a philosophy teacher, Nathalie has dedicated her life examining existence and being. It makes her good at closure. It's the kind of acute introspection that allows her to cry inside a public bus while mourning and then, as if on farcical cue, looks out the window and sees her ex-husband laughing with his new partner then suddenly bursting with smiles and lughter. Smiling through tears at life's impeccable and hilariously cruel timing.