A forlorn, circumspect amble through turmoil in advancing age is the motor behind Mia Hansen-Love’s downbeat Things To Come (L’avenir). A departure from her previous works focusing on youth, her contemplative fifth feature nestles in competition for the prestigious Golden Bear. It is easy to observe why.
Evoking the sort of naturalistic style associated with Hansen-Love’s late compatriot Eric Rohmer, this also plays like a French companion piece to Andrew Haigh’s rightly lauded Tom Courtney/Charlotte Rampling vehicle from last year, 45 Years.
Focusing on philosophy teacher Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) and her day-to-day travails, we find her unspectacularly bound to her husband-of-25-years, Heinz (Andre Marcon) – a university lecturer – and cradling the demands of her psychologically unstable mother (played by Edith Scob). Juggling the requirements of being an engaged pedagogue, an author of study books, at the beck and call to her needy mother, she is also a mother to two children. She certainly has her hands full.
Her hands become less full, however, when, one day, her daughter confronts Heinz that she is aware of him seeing a woman other than her mother. This revelation shocks, but her approach is not to scold him. Instead, she merely asks him to choose: her mother or this mystery woman. After some soul searching, he chooses the latter and owns up to Nathalie.
L’avenir is a tender portrait of a woman in her late fifties reinventing herself and reassessing her life. Huppert translates her loneliness as consummately as her satisfaction. Solace is sourced in the unlikeliest of places (even, for a brief moment, a cat, much to her surprise). Having emphatically stated that she’s intellectually content, she seeks more and more comfort in the philosophy that she knows oh so well. As she reads key epithets time and time again, both out loud in front of class and inwardly, she asks whether or not the physical is necessary to fulfilment.
This is a stark film about loss and soldiering on; picking up the sticks, disregarding the burnt embers and sparking a new fire elsewhere. This isn’t cinematic comfort food, but a refreshingly glib look at how life can throw the proverbial at you and not necessarily wrap the bad in a pretty bow. There is no finality at work, apart from the finality of death, and there is always the inscrutable abyss staring straight at all of us. If one thing truly translates in L’avenir, it is that much like pleasure, pain is also temporary, but certainty is elusive in a life where there are no guarantees.
L’avenir played in Competition at the Berlin International Film Festival 2016. It will be released into cinemas on 6th April 2016.