Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2016 3:57 pm 
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Embracing life's hard knocks

In Hansen-Løve's Things to Come/L'Avenir, a film designed with Isabelle Huppert in mind, her character Nathalie, a fiftyish Paris professeur agrégée of philosophy, faces one challenge after another with the kind of aplomb only the seemingly indestructible Huppert can carry off. It's summer, and a lot of the action takes place in northeastern Paris around the sunny Buttes Chaumont. Braving political strikes against government rises in retirement age is the first, and mildest, of her worries. Her husband Heinz (André Marcon), also a prof of "philo," is leaving her for a mistress. Her publisher is dropping her. Her daughter is leaving the nest. Her favorite graduate, a dreamboat, and someone she's probably in love with, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), is moving to a remote leftist commune whose denizens mostly speak German, which she doesn't. Most urgently, her aging mother (iconic actress Édith Scob) is having daily panic attacks and threatening suicide; the firemen are called in every day. Nathalie is saddled with her mother's overweight cat, Pandora, and she's allergic.

This is, in Mia Hansen-Løve's distinctive manner, a realistic "comédie de moeurs" that takes some jumps through time, and hits upon life crises with naturalism, style, and a moral seriousness that yet manages a light touch. Nathalie declares to Fabien that losing her mother, her husband, her daughter, her publisher, she has never been so free, and it's wonderful. One admires her panache. But does one believe her? She collapses in tears more than once.

An awful lot happens in under an hour of this 102 minute film, delivered with such rigorous French elegance, so cooly acted by Huppert, that it's a little hard to take it all in. On the one hand this has been called "the richest" of Hansen-Løve's five features, maybe because the protagonist is going through a classic series of major post-midlife crises. Her other films are more limited in focus, the addict parent of Tout est pardonné, the tragic film benefactor whose suicide leaves his family in the lurch of The Father of My Children, the young couple who part before the girl would like of Goodbye First Love, the music impresario brother with drug issues of Eden. But these also arguably are more particular, less schematic, than the latest film.

Fans of the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis will note that here too, a protagonist adrift is saddled with a cat. It's her panic at Pandora's temporary disappearance when Nathalie lets her loose at Fabien's country place that shows the disquiet under her façade of outward calm and assurance. One is also reminded as the plot unfolds of the line spoken by Bodhi in Point Break: "Life sure has a sick sense of humor, doesn't it?"

I was not so moved by Things to Come as by the director's previous films (except for Eden, which seemed a little too spread out and panoramic), but a friend whose opinions I respect declared that she "loved, loved, loved" it, and it just may take more time to sink in; this was true for me of Tout est pardonné. An angle to reconsider is how well Nathalie's "philo" instruction works for her, whether there is an ironic disconnect between text and life (as Nathalie's text books are declared defunct), or au contraire her conduct - something Isabelle Huppert, past 60 but still beautiful, elegant, and girlish, can carry off - may truly reflect the heroism life requires of us on a daily basis.

Things to Come/L'Avenir, 104 mins., debuted at the Berlinale, winning the Silver Bear for Best Director and nominated for the Golden Bear for Best Film. French theatrical release 6 Apr. 2016, to very strong reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.9/27 critics). Shown at nearly two dozen other international festivals including the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review 14 Oct. 2016.

US theatrical release begins 2 Dec. 2016.

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