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Things To Come

It’s never a good idea to take public transportation home from a funeral, but sixty-something philosophy professor Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) insists on learning that lesson the hard way. Crumpled against the window of a bus, Nathalie begins to cry. The teenage girl across from her eyes the scene as if she’s resisting the urge to Instagram it, as if she has no idea that it’s only a matter of time before we’re all the woman crying on the bus.

Poster for French release of L'Avenir (Things To Come)That’s when Nathalie spies Heinz (Andre Marçon), still technically her husband, walking with the young woman who recently inspired him to leave his wife of 25 years. Sometimes, life is subtle; sometimes, it’s so in your face that you just have to laugh. And that’s exactly what Nathalie does, chortling in disbelief at the perfection with which her world has been turned upside down.

With each new film she makes, director Mia Hansen-Løve (Goodbye, First Love, Eden) makes an increasingly convincing case that she’s one of the best filmmakers on the planet. L’Avenir is perhaps her richest work to date, a warm, funny and profoundly sensitive portrait of letting go and learning to make new memories.

Characteristically, L’Avenir is unfussy about its brilliance. There is poetry here, but all of the accidental kind that we find in our own lives. Nothing feels premeditated or divinely arranged. Time skips ahead in fits and starts. All the while, Nathalie is forced to move forward like water against the rocks. Like many of Hansen-Løve’s protagonists, she is a strong person for whom change does not come naturally. She’s like a top that’s just begun to wobble, someone who’s trying to pretend that she can keep spinning on the strength of centrifugal force alone.

It’s no small thing to say that the 63-year-old Isablle Huppert has never been better than she is here, especially considering how fearless she is in the recent film Elle.  It’s an incredibly honest performance in an incredibly honest role.  Huppert delivers every line like it’s a gust of wind blowing through her body, and is often at her best in the throwaway beats where she’s saying nothing at all.

Hansen-Løve wrote the role with Huppert in mind, and it was a stroke of genius to cast someone who has lived almost her entire adult life on screen. She’s been so many different people since her early twenties that it’s compellingly strange to watch her play someone who’s lost between parts, infinite and adrift. As if to ensure that the effect is not lost on us, Nathalie goes to a screening of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, a film consumed by the notion of people performing who they are. It’s worth the price of admission just to see why Nathalie is chased out of the theater, and how she reacts to the situation. 

More than just an homage to the great Kiarostami, Hansen-Løve’s meta-reference also points back to the very first scene of L’Avenir in which only one line of the philosophy text on Nathalie’s lap is translated for English-speaking viewers: ‘Can we put ourselves in the place of the other? And what if the other is just another version of ourselves?’ And perhaps you’ll find yourself pointed to another of Huppert’s best films, I Heart Huckabees, and the existential quandary that hovered over that movie: ‘How am I not myself?’

Mia Hansen-Løve’s beautiful new movie looks at the same idea from a different angle: It doesn’t ask Nathalie how she isn’t herself, but rather how she always will be, and it graciously invites us to share in the desire of wanting to find out.

– David Ehrlich, IndieWire

De Michel Simon et Jean Gabin à Gérard Depardieu, l’influence de certains acteurs sur les films a dépassé parfois celle des auteurs. Aujourd’hui il y a Isabelle Huppert. Il ne s’agit pas de négliger ce que L’Avenir doit à Mia Hansen-Løve, qui est considérable, mais enfin, de la première à la dernière image, le film, c’est Isabelle Huppert. Au point qu’on ne saurait dire qui, du personnage ou de la comédienne, habite l’autre. L’intelligence de la jeune réalisatrice est d’avoir rendu possible cette alchimie.

Isabelle Huppert in L'Avenir (Things To Come)Voici donc qu’à pas pressés s’avance Nathalie, professeur de philo, directrice de collection, chez qui les idées importent plus que les sentiments. Le jour où son mari depuis 25 ans (André Marcon), philosophe lui aussi, lui annonce qu’il la quitte pour une autre, elle aperçoit mal le bouleversement à venir. Car elle affirme voir dans l’accomplissement de sa vie intellectuelle une raison suffisante à son bonheur. Nous sommes entre gens intelligents : hors de question de se déchirer. Certains s’affrontent sur le partage des tableaux ou des maisons, ici c’est une édition complète des œuvres de Levinas dont Nathalie déplore d’être privée.

Il lui reste à découvrir ce qu’elle fera de cette liberté nouvelle. Ses enfants sont grands, désormais. Lui reste une mère fantasque, à l’humour ravageur, mais en fin de parcours, qui offre à Edith Scob de livrer une composition éblouissante. Il y a bien cet étudiant brillant (Roman Kolinka), dont le spectateur peut imaginer un temps que son entente avec Nathalie tournera à l’aventure amoureuse, mais non, le temps passe, certains jours si vite, parfois trop lentement, et vient le soir où, pour sécher les larmes qui lui sont venues sans qu’elle sache pourquoi ni comment, Nathalie ne trouve que la fourrure de ce chat qui jusqu’alors l’encombrait.

Le film épouse le rythme de Nathalie, il marche au pas d’Isabelle Huppert, porté par les musiques choisies par Mia Hansen-Løve, de Donovan à César Franck. Tout est affaire de culture, de transmission, de générations, de maîtres et d’élèves, d’émotions, de sentiments, de ceux surtout que l’on se cache à soi-même et qui, si profondément enfouis qu’ils soient, finissent par surgir. Et si, à l’écran, l’actrice semble en être surprise, c’est parce qu’à aucun moment elle ne paraît jouer.

– Pascal Merigeau, Le Nouvel observateur

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