“Can we put ourselves in the place of others?”

Things to Come sees writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve take an apparently simplistic narrative and form it into one of the year’s most engaging character dramas, as family life and employment mix with mid-life revelations for Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert). She is successful teacher and noted author of philosophy books and has been married to fellow tutor Heinz (André Marcon) for many years. The pair have two children, Chloé (Sarah Le Picard) and Johann (Solal Forte), and Nathalie recalls the many happy holidays spent by the coast in their Brittany holiday home. But despite this apparently settled situation, life is moving on and new challenges manifest themselves for Nathalie. Her elderly mother Yvette (Edith Scob) is finding independent living increasingly difficult and her depression is causing issues for the family, as well as to the much hugged (and occasionally devious) black cat, Pandora. It appears that a care home would be the best option for mother. Meanwhile the spirit of ’68 appears to be arising anew with political protests amongst Nathalie’s students; “I’m not here to talk politics but to teach” she declares, as she walks through the picket line. Her publishers are not content with sales of her books and later, Heinz reveals that he has been having an affair and plans to leave her. However, Nathalie has retained contact with her former student, who is now publishing anarchist literature and setting up a mountainside farming commune with fellow activists. Perhaps temporary escape from the city in the company of Pandora could help… except that she’s allergic to cats.

Even though Nathalie feels “lucky enough to be fulfilled intellectually,” her situation is increasingly filled with events that are beyond her control. Her perceived normality of day to day living as lecturer and mother, so stable for so many years, is shattered by constantly evolving revelations that she needs to confront, if she can, with her sensible academic personality rather than with angst and rage. These trials that she has to endure are wonderfully portrayed by Isabelle Huppert who interprets the emotional situations with such stoic fervour that this story of middle-aged angst is utterly emotional even when the character is forcing herself to suppress her reactions to these troubles. The script and direction by Mia Hansen-Løve is an exemplary example of how to construct events and revelations without falling on inconceivable circumstances or narrative hoodwinking. It is tight, personal drama of the highest quality both in delivery and in acting, where nothing detracts from Nathalie’s relationships and her emotional attachments to the very people she relies upon or who assert their presence on her life.

The delicate realism in the film-making is what makes Things to Come an integral work and rightful winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director at Berlinale this year. This takes its mid-life family and employment crisis scenarios and fulfils them in an intellectual, provoking manner.