What does the future hold? If one thing is for certain, it’s past successes are of little indication for future endeavors. Yet, we can’t help but fall into that trap, thinking that we are going along fine and dandy before it all comes crashing down.
That future is what Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) has on her plate. Up to this point, her past has been one of success. In addition to a successful career as a high school philosophy teacher, Nathalie has also has penned a reputable textbook and a series of monographs for educational purposes. She is married to another philosopher, Heinz (André Marcon), her kids are grown and ready to leave the nest and a former student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka) — a bright kid who did not complete his studies, instead following the call of a communist anarchist — returns and provides Nathalie with a bit of hope. What a good life I’ve lead.
But, as writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve suggests, all is not well. While visiting a graveyard, Hansen-Løve flashes up the title of the movie L’avenir — the literal French translation is The Future — over a gravestone. That’s the ultimate future that awaits us all, but in Nathalie’s case, it’s coming faster than she realizes.
There is an aspect to Nathalie’s character that has either made her oblivious to the changing tides of the future that is rapidly becoming the present — success does that to people — or she is consciously tuning it out. The students at her school are rioting for pension benefits and early retirement, but Nathalie takes no notice, even when they address her specifically. She sees them more as an annoyance, one that stands between her and her students; an annoyance on par with her publisher who is pushing her to update her philosophy textbook, lest it becomes obsolete. Nathalie doesn’t even realize that she now has to pay for the books she takes for class; she used to be able to take them for free.
Nathalie also doesn’t see that the return of her prized student won’t bring her the warm fuzzies of professional success — in one scene he cruelly and efficiently dresses down her aging philosophical views — she definitely doesn’t see her divorce coming and though she knows that her mother is dying, she didn’t think she would have to tend to Pandora, her mother’s cat.
Things to Come is a gentle and warm reminder that life steamrolls us, no matter how hard we try to prevent it. Hansen-Løve doesn’t do this with any hand-wringing, but through small moments and visual cues. In one instance, after Nathalie and Heinz have divorced, Nathalie returns to their/her home to study. In earlier scenes, the bookshelves were jammed with great literary volumes, but now many are missing. Not only has her husband left her and left a sizeable hole in her life — including one of her prized volumes — he has left her previously perfect and arranged life in disarray.
It’s an impressive visual, one that perfectly illustrates divorce and the shape of things to come for Nathalie. After her husband leaves, her mother dies and her children pursue their own lives, Nathalie’s life will sadly start to resemble Swiss cheese. What is to come next? Who can say, but it’s probably going to be tough.