The title Things to Come may conjure in the viewer many conflicting feelings. Whether it be a sort of reminder that the best is yet ahead, an inducement of a fatalistic attitude, or even a memento mori, Mia Hansen-Løve foregrounds the idea of the inevitable. However, her film concerns itself solely with the present, anchoring itself in the rush of human experience with vigor and beauty. Centering on Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a philosophy professor living sometime in the late 2000s, Things to Come follows her life over the course of a year (with a brief prologue and extended epilogue) as she deals with marital problems, her aging and weakened mother (played with verve by Édith Scob), and engages in more academic matters. On the surface, this premise would smack of weightlessness, but Hansen-Løve imbues it with a light, always consequential import.
The key to the success of Things to Come is, perhaps inevitably in this year, the magnificence of Isabelle Huppert. For one, her ability to relay weighty philosophical ideas both in lecture and in casual conversation with her family and friends is impressive in more than one sense of the word; she is always persuasive and adamant in her belief, but it always feels like a conversation, like Huppert embodies Nathalie’s worldview and gives it life. Even more crucial is Huppert’s physicality, an odd term to be invoking in a film where no one moves more quickly than a brisk walk. Whether it be wading through a muddy beach to find a cell phone signal or moving through her apartment, she always seems to be in motion, never rudderless or lacking in purpose—though of course she does have many crises of faith or loneliness.
Just as vital is the clarity and empathy that Hansen-Løve displays in rendering this story of a woman ultimately learning to live with herself. The presence of other people is key, especially Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a former student and anarchist that Nathalie becomes closer and closer to as Things to Come moves along, but the focus is always on her, a woman with fewer years left to live than had come before.
But it must be emphasized that Things to Come is by no means a movie that succumbs to navel-gazing or anguish. Hansen-Løve’s sense of rhythm in her screenplay is a marvel, rendering this relatively quotidian story with just the right amount of development from scene to scene and injecting no small amount of levity. From an aborted viewing of the late, great Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy to a strained meeting with Nathalie’s publishing company, who stress that her erudite philosophy texts are not commercial enough, to the extended, marvelous presence of a fat black cat named Pandora the film is as digressive as it is motivated; indeed the digressions are a large part of Hansen-Løve’s motivation. The things to come are really just things, whether they be death, life, or the unknown, and Nathalie learns to take them as they come. Sometimes, the human experience can be summed up in going back to retrieving an IKEA bag from the dumpster, or laughing in disbelief at an encounter witnessed by chance. Hansen-Løve recognizes this and documents it; it is of great, touching significance that the final scene is one of domestic bliss, a sort of passing the torch, though Nathalie will live on, in a kind of freedom that Things to Come never forgets is both a curse and a blessing.