I spent a good chunk of Mia Hansen Love’s Things to Come contemplating what, exactly, I want out of film today. As much as I might kvetch on here (or in my own brain) about the avalanche of comic book sequels and reboots and tiresome explode-a-thon spectacles, I don’t exactly want the opposite either. Things to Come is that opposite — a quiet film about intelligent, well-read people. There’s no violence, no sex, just a lot of languid shots of people discussing books or walking across apartment living rooms. On paper, I should find this type of film refreshing. And I do, to an extent, welcome it. I just can’t get excited about it, let alone fully recommend it.
You’ll notice, of course, when I mentioned watching the movie, I didn’t talk about actually paying attention to the thing. That’s because it’s so restrained it’s nearly ephemeral. The film follows Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a philosophy teacher in a long-lasting marriage with two nearly grown children. After a lot of setup, we find that her husband (Andre Marcon) has met another woman and has decided to leave Nathalie. This sets her off down a road of adjustment and numerous life changes, all in her middle age.
Huppert plays the role with an underlying sense of anxiety. While Nathalie faces the world with a strong sense of self, refusing to show much public emotion, we do see her, in private moments, broken down emotionally by the enormity of her situation. It’s these small moments of vulnerability, when she has a breakdown in bed with her cat — or once on the bus — that make her truly likable. But these are rare and far between. Nathalie, as intelligent and innately frustrated a character as she is, is simply too emotionally removed to truly connect with consistency.
Yes, she’s fully formed and wonderfully human, but the ways in which Hansen Love chooses to show her life lack any real verve. The film’s style is nonexistent, usually unraveling into static shots of characters talking or walking short distances. (If you cut out all the walking you’d have a 45-minute movie on your hands.) The idea here is to document some sort of truth, some sort of realness. The problem, however, is that truth can be a bit boring, and Things to Come — as intelligent as it is — is pretty inert. Even the title (which sounds like something Nancy Meyers would somnambulistically throw together) keeps drifting from my memory.
I don’t think that movies should always be about escapism, but they shouldn’t always be about the minutiae of life, either. We get enough of that, you know, living. Yes, Huppert, as always, is great. If you have the very specific patience for this type of slice of life filmmaking, have at it. Just don’t expect the parameters of cinema to be pushed very much. Or at all. Rated PG-13 for brief language and drug use.
Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.