“Things to Come” – “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
“An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” - Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion
For Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a published, high school philosophy teacher, she keeps herself busy with eventful, meaningful plans throughout her days. Not unlike many hardworking women in 2016, she needs (or feels the need) to wear multiple hats. Nathalie invests her time with her students and her two grown children. Additionally, she maintains a household with some help from her husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), but also looks after her aging mom (Edith Scob), who demands constant attention. Sprinkle in an occasional escape from Paris to their beautiful, coastal home, and Nathalie enjoys her full life. As the late Mr. Lennon once said, however, life can suddenly “happen”.
Writer/director Mia Hansen-Love just so happens to compose a rich and thoughtful deep-dive on a character who must cope with significant changes and attempts to embrace an uncertain future. The things to come.
Before Hansen-Love’s picture moves towards things that will come, she introduces Nathalie’s current life during the first act. Even though Nathalie carries honest and noble intentions, at closer examination, the film reveals that negative forces surround her, and she simply accepts the burden. While wearing various “hats”, she focuses on her obligations, from her classroom to her publisher, her home, and her mother’s home, and although adverse forces are not always intentional, they exist. This is probably why Nathalie is always in motion, not just figuratively in terms of her responsibilities, but literally as well, by always briskly walking within given spaces.
Her constant movement becomes quite noticeable after about 10 minutes of screen time, and Hansen-Love and Huppert seem to convey that this helps appease – or has become a byproduct of - her general discomfort. In fact, she may not even realize her discomfort. Sometimes in the midst of our demanding lives, we may not rest to notice.
American audiences might some have fun noticing the differences between U.S. and French cultures. Although Nathalie’s story can be told from anywhere, two distinct moments are wonderfully French. They deal with relationships, but to reveal them here would be a terrible disservice. I will only mention that they occur with Heinz and a random stranger and are plainly evident when comparing and contrasting with our more uptight mores on this side of the Atlantic.
As quickly as Nathalie moves within various spaces – while either throwing away a bouquet of unwanted flowers or scurrying to her mom’s house to appease the latest self-induced catastrophe - it also becomes abundantly clear that she is not moving forward, but in circles.
In a serendipitous way, life’s “unbalanced forces” nudge her forward by disrupting her well-oiled routines. She must move forward, but more importantly, she needs to stop and take assessment first.
Nathalie’s self-exploration and the hope for a positive conclusion keep us engaged, and the story works because of Hansen-Love’s rich script in capturing the small details of her lead character’s life and, of course, Huppert’s absorbing performance. Huppert wraps herself in Nathalie’s challenges and develops a bond with the audience. She is comical at times, but mostly Nathalie is the responsible wondermom who we had growing up or possibly knew through a neighborhood friend.
We should be so lucky.
Talented, thoughtful, beautiful, and well-spoken, she only lacks confidence when her worlds no longer remain their consistent selves. In this case, this wondermom needs help and a friend, because Newton’s First Law of Motion should not be taken lightly.