Things to Come (2016)
Written & Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
What we expect is not what we will get. This is a lesson for both the protagonist Nathalie and the audience. Life unfolds with surprises that are not necessarily earth-shaking but create ripples out through your day to day choices. After twenty-five years of marriage, Nathalie learns her husband is having an affair, and it’s decided with little bombast that they are divorcing. In the year that follows she has to deal with a mother that has severe depression and anxiety, her daughter gives birth to the first grandchild of the family, she struggles with her career as a philosophy professor, and reconnects with a former student.
Nathalie is not a woman that can be boiled down, in the same way that the film quietly eschews the expectations we have for this story based on popular media. She laughs through tears when she sees her husband with his new partner out and about. Her newly blossoming friendship with a former student doesn’t grow into anything romantic, platonic yet flirty. There’s never an explosion of anger when her publisher begins undermining her place in their stable of writers and editors. She remains a dominant presence in every scene. In these ways, Nathalie feels like a fully realized human being. She’s not a vessel of escapist fantasy, but a reflection of the quiet and firm ways older women carry their lives on in the face of adversity.
Director Mia Hansen-Løve does an excellent job laying out the story of a person who is not explosively emotive, about someone whose emotional life is an inner experience. Nathalie weeps in private; she turns away when she tears up. She is a person who prefers to deal through direct measures with other people, both in family and career. There’s a challenge to the audience to realize that not every person processes the difficulties of life in the same manner. It’s a refreshing change when I’m so used to films that incessantly show the human experience as an over the top flood of emotion.
When Nathalie is put in an uncomfortable situation while visiting the French Alps, she makes up an excuse about a broken pipe in her apartment, giving her a reason to go back home. She finds her peace in going out to lay in a field and read a book by herself. Pandora, her mother’s black cat, is a burden she complains about always but when the animal runs off into the woods, she spends her evening calling for the pet from the grass while her friends drink and eat and discuss philosophy.
The film doesn’t show what Nathalie’s life will be like in the wake of all these massive ruptures in her everyday existence. The camera pulls away as she sings to her grandchild and her children eat Christmas dinner in the other room. We know there isn’t a guarantee of comfort for the remainder of her days, but who is promised that? Nathalie may not give your response in how she reacts, but it is her reaction, it is this woman’s choice to see the world in the way she does and choose to engage or withdraw however she wants. Nathalie herself quotes during a lesson to her students: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”