Twirling leaves spin indifferently to the slate rocks below. Globs of mud stick like medical adhesive to the soles of marching feet. Later, snow and sleet superimpose themselves to pastoral landscapes. All the while, Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert), an erudite teacher in Paris, taps into the pewter inkwell of existentialism and philosophy. Books and loose leafed essays stack up, worn out binding and weathered names. Nathalie curates everything in her life, top to bottom, and, as her students realize, is as resolute and reliable as a church bell. Her family, on the other hand, bandies about in a mercurial haze of codependency. Sudden phone calls. Volleys of irrational behavior. And, at its worst, infidelity. Even her ailing mother’s black cat, Pandora, slinks around with aloof disregard. After a life of inquisitive certainty, Nathalie finds herself in a soupy, seemingly anticlimactic, haze.
In a year where nuance has been thrown to the wolves, director Mia Hansen-Løve crafts a story without crashing symbols and whirling parasols. “Things to Come” is simply about the aching, sometimes acerbically humorous, moments in life. The craven, rudderless, choices of others and the propulsion of will to get past them. Nathalie isn’t especially quixotic, but throughout her intensely personal ordeals flashes of romanticism unearths from the fury. There are moments in this film, especially due to Isabelle Huppert’s monumentally thoughtful performance, that carry both bruised hilarity and quiet strength. The frustration boils and crashes onto the stove top of Nathalie’s mind as she coordinates missile strikes for and against the people in her life. “Things to Come” is a masterwork in identity, intellectualism, and Murphy’s law.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s direction is decidedly unfussy. There are no bells and whistles, no carnival barking or showmanship. Here is a film that doesn’t get its hair mussed by bombastic camera movements or overpowering, alpha closeups. Hansen-Løve employs hard horizontal lines and wooden rulers for her creative compass, thus allowing the idiosyncratic nature of life and its warm weather and bone chilling breezes to set the canvas for its story. And Isabelle Huppert takes center stage, slaying each moment with a perceptive, brutally honest, performance that will no doubt go down in cinema history for its flint-like approach.
There may have been conventionally louder films in 2016, but none burned and rolled with smoke quite like “Things to Come”. All pledge fealty to Isabelle Huppert.