Jason reporting from the NYFF on the new film from director Mia Hansen-Løve, currently scheduled to open in limited release on December 2nd
At about the midpoint of Things to Come Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) says to a friend that she's "found freedom" but we know better. We've been watching freedom thrust upon her in disorienting spasms, as her husband's left her and her publishing house has tossed her old-fashioned intellectualism aside (one of them hurls out the word "classy" like it's going to burn her hands). And in truth Nathalie doesn't quite know what to make of it, this "found" freedom of hers. "Extraordinary," is what she calls it, and that approaches the thing, but not quite the way she's selling it at that moment...
It matters here who she's speaking to - she's come to visit the bohemian writer's retreat of a former student. And just out of reach, unspoken but delicately felt by all those involved (including us watching) there's a playful tension of the sexual sort between the two of them. It's not the sort of thing that's burning up the screen but he's adorable, she's now available, and she's trying to decide how much freedom she's really up for. (There's a hysterically awkward scene earlier on where a man seems to sniff out Nathalie's newfound availability like a horny rottweiler, much to her dismay.) It seems that Nathalie's really pretty comfortable with who Nathalie has become in life - the puzzle, with the world itself around her changing, is to fit that comfortable person into this new tumultuous plot.
Director Mia Hansen-Løve and Isabelle Huppert chart Nathalie's journey in empathetic little strokes since this not a great big mid-life crisis we're witnessing. Nathalie takes things too much in stride, and she's too smart for self-destruction. This is only reshuffling; one set of artfully white-spined philosophy books replacing another set of tastefully white-spined philosophy books on a bookshelf.
If that sounds sterile then you might not share my affection for bookshelves - this film is a warm embrace for bibiliophiles, the passing back and forth of literature the very language it speaks; try not to gape in horror when Nathalie comes home to find her husband's cleared out half of the books in their apartment.
Watching Isabelle Huppert laugh almost always comes as a shock but this is Huppert in lovely mode, warm and freckled and real. Those familiar askance-eyed masochists and dominatrixes of The Piano Teacher and Elle and so on are nowhere to be seen. To be honest sometimes Huppert makes me even uneasier when she's playing nice ladies as I am always waiting for the other spiked heel to drop. But Nathalie is a stunning and fresh creation from the actress, who turns out to still have more tricks up her sleeves than we may imagine. There are plenty of things to come all around.