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May 13, 2017

Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Things to Come” is a sad yet ultimately uplifting drama

Jeannette E. Spaghetti/Flickr

Jeannette E. Spaghetti/Flickr

A broken heart is among the hardest experiences for a human being to overcome. Unlike physical pain, which ceases after recovery, having one’s heart broken by a spouse or romantic partner is a pain that is affecting in a less tangible way. The pain of heartbreak always heals slowly, regardless of how many Band-Aids our empathetic peers may place over our hearts.

Those who experience heartbreak in their youth, though it feels earthshattering in the moment, should consider themselves fortunate. As the adage “time heals all wounds” implies, with time there is an infinite number of possibilities, all of which can bring forth relief for a broken heart.

However, what if there is not enough time to allow for healing? This frightening scenario is one that French director Mia Hansen-Løve brings to focus in her new film, “Things to Come.” In her previous film, “Eden,” Hansen-Løve attempted to look at youth culture through electronic music, and explored the pressures that come with being young and opportunistic. With “Things to Come,” Hansen-Løve explores the opposite scenario, where a character in her late 50s, who is well established in her life, strives to maintain stability in a world that is starting to shake things up as time passes.

The film’s main protagonist, Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), is a middle-aged philosophy professor who appears to have built herself a fulfilling life. She finds intellectual stimulation through her students and teaching, and is satisfied romantically from her husband – a fellow philosophy professor.

Nevertheless, the film’s façade of stable livelihood soon fades as Nathalie’s husband informs her that he has fallen in love with someone else. Unlike most, who might break down, cry, or delve into fits of despair and outrage, Nathalie instead has a rather tame response to the news.

When a younger student of Nathalie’s asks her about the state of her romantic life, she replies, “Oh, you know, I have a rich intellectual life. It’s enough for me.” Though Nathalie seems assured that this rationale is the case, the viewer can detect the frailty in her voice as she speaks, and soon Nathalie’s actions begin to match our suspicions that, despite her attempts to escape her feelings through intellectual stimulation, her basic human emotions will, in the end, rise to the surface.

Within the film’s short time span, other heartbreaking events occur in Nathalie’s life. Throughout these events, Nathalie strolls through her day noticeably stressed out, yet emotionally numb, exhibiting only glimpses of the emotions in which the viewer might hope or expect her to feel.

However, late at night, or in spontaneous outbursts throughout the day, the layers of philosophy and ideas in which Nathalie shrouds herself in become unraveled. Tears stroll down her face in between large, painful sobs. Then, emptiness washes over her face, as emotions fail to convey the pain and loneliness that she feels.

Although “Things to Come” is about a middle-aged woman’s battle with rough events that take place in the present, the film contrasts these events in relation to the important moments to come. Nathalie has much to live for in the film, as her daughter has recently had a baby and many young French students rely on her incredible knowledge of philosophy in order to develop their own perspectives of the world around them.

For the life lessons that Nathalie’s experiences can impart, “Things to Come” is absolutely worth seeing. We must sift through our sad moments in order to reach those that contain a glory that makes it all worthwhile. Nathalie’s battle to focus on impersonal things in her own life initially saddens, but ultimately uplifts us all.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

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