L’avenir [Things to Come] (2016)

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Elise Lhomeau, Lionel Dray
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 29.10.2016

Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is an enthusiastic philosophy teacher, married to Heinz (André Marcon) for 25 years and has two grown children. She pursues her job with passion above and beyond the call of duty, keeping in touch with former students like Fabien (Roman Kolinka) and publishing school books and essays. The rest of her time is pretty much devoted to caring for her mother (Edith Scob). But then the rug gets pulled out from under her feet. In quick succession, Heinz announces he’s leaving her for another woman, her publisher announces that they can’t afford to publish her things anymore, and her mother moves into a home. Nathalie finds herself suddenly confronted with more liberty than she ever had in her life.

While I appreciate the story, L’avenir is telling, unfortunately it left me pretty cold, despite a great performance by Isabelle Huppert.

There is something revolutionary about making a film starring a middle-aged woman and focusing on the options the future still has in stow for her. Too often, women older than 40 are pretty much forgotten in films, and they certainly have no future to speak of, unless maybe a return as the snarky grandmother who hates everything. I loved that L’avenir took a different approach.

Unfortunately the story never really went anywhere, for me. And the ending seemed at once arbitrary, with the story not actually having come to a natural end, and at the same time it was absolutely on the nose, ending at the end of the year and with a new baby.

Most of the film is filled with intellectual discussions. Nathalie is a philosophy teacher after all. But while I’m not generally averse to philosophic debates, neither in real life nor in film, it didn’t feel organic here and it started to annoy me pretty quickly. It was also probably at least part of the reason why I simply did not connect emotionally with the story or the characters.

But not everything is bad about the film. I loved how Nathalie handles her forced reorientation and particularly how clearly and definitely she sets boundaries for Heinz in their divorce. I wanted to applaud her on that, because it’s simply one of the hardest things. And as I said, Huppert is simply phenomenal. Without an emotional connection, though, the film didn’t work, despite those good things.

Summarizing: I can see other people enjoying this, but I didn’t.

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