Mia Hansen-Løve’s (Eden) run of quite-good-but-not-great films continues with philosophy-teacher drama Things to Come (its French title is, aptly, the more abstract L’avenir). In its dialectic-like playing-off of words against action, it can seem like an extreme epitome of Gallic cinema, so often concerned with public conversations verses personal affairs and finding the emotions in-between. But the movie is elevated by two intriguingly digressive moments.
The questioning teacher in question is Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert). She seems to lead a comfortable bourgeois existence: lecturing, publishing books, a married life in a tome-filled apartment, seeing her two kids often. She’s still close to a former star pupil, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), so determined to be more activist that he moves with comrades to a farmhouse in France’s Rhône-Alpes region (Chazeaux, as it happens, is the name of a small town there). But with her mother’s health failing and her husband leaving her, Nathalie’s life is stripped away.
In the counterpointing of Nathalie the teacher’s large questions with Nathalie the wife and daughter’s near-constant hustle and bustle in her little life—she must even cut a class short to attend another cry for help from her dramatic mother—Things to Come is a portrait of one woman’s harried, frayed, busy late middle age. It can seem a bit skittish (and commits that Euro-film mistake of over-playing English songs for profundity). But there are striking moments of emotional abandon (both Nathalie and her daughter have sudden crying jags), a lovely subplot involving Nathalie’s one reluctant inheritance—her mother’s cat—amid so many losses, and Nathalie and Fabien’s friendship turns a little, late on, with a confrontation that was bound to happen.
Most moving, though, is the camera’s darting—occasionally drifting or whirling as if to follow other characters. It frames books and different generations of family in the final shot of Nathalie’s home, as well as two scenes which stray. Those scenes are both on the Brittany coast, where we linger not alongside Nathalie but her husband, Heinz (André Marcon), who ruminates on . . . well, it’s that question and those two moments which nudge Things to Come into some place deeper and stranger at last.