Movie Review: Things to Come (2016)

Posted: May 3, 2017 in Movie Reviews

L'AvenirThings to Come (2016)

Starring- Isabelle Huppert, Andre Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Elise Lhomeau, Lionel Dray, Gregoire Montana-Haroche, Lina Benzerti

Director- Mia Hansen-Love

PG-13- brief language and drug use


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A French philosophy professor deals with a sudden cycle of change in her previously stable life.

Things to Come is challenging to discuss because there’s a certain formlessness to it, which doubles as its charm and its Achilles’ heel. If I have little to say about it, it’s only because of the expansiveness of it — not its overall quality as a film.

Though it must be said that Things to Come provokes a somewhat contradictory reaction. It’s the sort of movie that seems very good while you’re watching it — and it is — but fades in the memory almost immediately. It’s strange, the way it commanded my attention and then vanished the second it ended.

In the end, I think that’s because it’s a more performance-oriented film and not necessarily a treatise on the human condition. I’m honestly surprised that no significant Oscar campaign was mounted for Isabelle Huppert here; whether or not the film as a whole is better than Elle (I think it is, but that’s just me), it’s certainly less controversial and discomfiting. She’s fantastic, playing the reserved intellectual under siege with grace and subtlety, allowing the character’s withdrawn countenance to mask her feelings without taking them entirely off the table. This isn’t a movie about dealing with grief or change or struggle so much as a movie about a person’s reaction immediately after any one of those things sets in. Things to Come couldn’t be a more truthful title — it lives in that moment that follows the major catalysts in our lives, after characters have realized that things are changing but before that becomes a battle. The real struggle in these characters’ lives is primed to set in sometime after the credits roll; right now, the change is fresh, and they’re convinced they can keep on keeping on with few adjustments.

The movie’s key strength is the way it captures those important shifts in our lives, things we all experience albeit in wildly different ways. There’s something exciting about new circumstances, as well as something stressful. There’s never a moment where we let go of the past and embrace the future all at once; we cling to pieces of both for a while, all of them becoming whole one at a time. So our emotions are contradictory and sometimes difficult to understand — we mourn the loved ones we lose, but take relief in the end of their suffering and even, sometimes, in the end of our obligations to them. Given the chance to reinvent ourselves, the world opens up into a realm of infinite possibilities, but we also know the consequences if we screw it up. After the initial rush comes that moment of contemplation, casually wondering about where we’ve been and where we’re going. We have one foot in the past to keep us feeling like the world’s still spinning and one foot in the future to keep us feeling like we’re stuck. It’ll get hard later, but right now, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

That’s the space in which Things to Come finds itself. Things are changing, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet — oh, the characters know their lives are about to be very different, but they haven’t had time to track the way the dominos are going to fall. They don’t realize how hard it’s going to be. None of us do, and that’s probably for the best — if we did, we would root ourselves to the spot and die there, unchanged.

Things to Come floats around that premise more than it dissects that; it’s a fluctuating emotional state more than a story. It can feel empty on occasion, as scenes begin and end with no clear purpose and characters of varying detail and strength wander in and out of things seemingly on a whim. It doesn’t end so much as just stop. And the lack of meaningful connections between these moments blurs them all together to the point that little of the movie stands out afterward. It isn’t boring to watch, but it is a touch boring to reflect upon.

I don’t think there’s anything too terribly wrong with that. Sometimes, a movie is just a personal experience that only matters to you. It isn’t something you can explain to someone else. I suspect Things to Come is going to be that movie for most of its viewers — everyone liking it, but for different reasons they’ll be unable to completely justify to one another. We’ll all see different parts of our lives reflected in it; we’ll connect with some of these experiences and brush past the others. The end result may not be 2016’s most memorable film, but it’s a gem nonetheless.


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