“Life is short,” the expression goes, but depending on where you are, the sensation can feel quite the contrary. Sometimes, life feels long, with very little hope that it will change or get better. That’s certainly how Nathalie perceives her life, as the unhappy woman at the center of Things to Come, which chronicles the slow unraveling of everything Nathalie’s known and counted on. From one perspective, Things to Come is a melancholy, slight drama, but depending on your own experience, it can also feel like the bitterest, truest of comedies.
Nathalie is played by Isabelle Huppert, a master of enigmatic elegance who’s also terrific in Elle, a dark thriller about a businesswoman attacked and raped in her home who becomes obsessed with finding the man who assaulted her. In Things to Come, she’s portraying another middle-aged woman facing a crisis, and even if this one doesn’t seem as severe, the trauma is just as profound.
A respected philosopher, teacher, and essayist, Nathalie learns that her longtime husband (André Marcon) is leaving her for another woman. In addition, her ailing mother (Édith Scob), who raised Nathalie on her own, has reached the stage in her mental deterioration that a nursing home has become inevitable. Before too long, Nathalie will have very few of the hallmarks that have distinguished her life—her home and her mother will soon be no more.
The quietly remarkable French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve brings her usual casually perceptive eye to Things to Come. In movies like The Father of My Children and Eden, the 35-year-old writer-director has shown an interest in how people make do with the bad hand life has dealt them. As with Hansen-Løve’s previous films, Nathalie is hardly destitute—financially speaking, she has a comfortable existence—but the director shows enormous sympathy to her upper-class character, showing how she’s unmoored by the realization that, in her 60s, she’s free to remake her world. Things to Come is wise about how terrifying such a realization can be.