“I’ve found my freedom,” Isabelle Huppert’s Nathalie flatly states about halfway through Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Things to Come.” This declaration comes about in the wake of fundamental alterations in her relationships with husband, mother and children. The phrase has never sounded so depressing.
Since older audiences are among the last reliable demographic blocs to still attend movies in theaters, we’ve seen a veritable cottage industry of AARP-approved films that celebrate the freedom that comes with advanced years. Most, such as “Hello, My Name Is Doris” or “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” carry a fun, uplifting tune about these new realities. Hansen-Løve certainly does not rule out such a fate for her protagonist in “Things to Come,” but one gets the sense that such fancy-free contentment will only come after a great internal tussle.
Nathalie begins the film assuming her biggest battle will be proving her continued commitment to the political causes which define her life and teaching. She began her adulthood as a hardcore leftist and resents accusations from striking students that she has sold out her ideals to contribute to the ruling system. They see compromise; she claims pragmatism.
Turns out, the intricacies of Rousseau, Foucault and Adorno prove the least of Nathalie’s worries after a series of small tragedies accelerates her break from the routines she so nimbly mastered. She comes to long not for harmonizing and synthesizing the philosophy she already knows; rather, Nathalie looks for God or some system of thought that can provide order to her universe once again. To find oneself in a new stage of life, one must be set adrift. Hansen-Løve lingers in the moments of uncertainty, the painful longing that occurs while wayfaring between stations. Patriotism isn’t the only context in which the phrase “freedom doesn’t come free” can apply, turns out.
Huppert settles into the rhythm of the film marvelously, emphasizing neither the journey nor the destination for her character. Natalie is such a thinker that her terrain of action is in the mind. The biggest changes take place there as she internalizes her new set of circumstances and begins to formulate plans to proceed. Huppert’s virtuosity shows in her ability to turn an intellectual proposition into an emotional voyage for the audience. With her mental process so clear, we are able to contemplate not what Nathalie registers in any given moment but rather how such a development might resonate in our own lives. A- /