28 October 2016

Mia Hansen-Løve’s ‘Things to Come’

I saw Mia Hansen-Løve’s L’Avenir in France during the summer and have now had the benefit of the subtitled UK release. Why the French title could not be translated literally as ‘The Future’, rather than reviving a celebrated usage by HG Wells in 1936, who knows?

Isabelle Huppert’s Nathalie Chazeaux is a Parisian philosophy teacher with grown-up children. After an ultimatum from their daughter, Nathalie’s husband Heinz (André Marcon), who also teaches philo, leaves her for his girlfriend, taking some of Nathalie’s books with him. Other traumas follow: Nathalie’s mother goes into a terminal decline; she has to take final leave of her husband’s family’s holiday home in Brittany; her publisher no longer thinks her books fit the market; going to the cinema solo she falls prey to a molester. Worse, philosophy being such an important part of Nathalie’s life, she finds herself at odds with Fabien (Roman Kolinka, right) a former pupil who seems to be turning towards anarchism. But after all this prospects of a happier future for Nathalie begin to emerge, not least as a grandmother. Huppert provides a totally convincing portrayal of a woman, and it could only be a woman, having to cope with so many intellectual and practical demands at the same time. Unsurprisingly unsentimental, Nathalie sends Heinz away rather than let him rejoin the family for poulet on Le Reveillon (chicken for Christmas Eve supper).

Philosophy is a prestigious subject in the French baccalauréat (approximately A-level in the UK or high school diploma level in the US) though Nathalie seems to be teaching at the even more demanding ‘prepa’ level which candidates for the grandes écoles have to achieve. For Arts students taking the bac literary stream, philosophy has the highest weighting (coeff) of all subjects.  In France exams are marked out of 20, 16 (80%) is a very high mark. There is a “little primer” on the philosophical references in L’Avenir on the ScreenPrism website. Some reviewers have referred to the Cazeaux as “academics”, but, although their pupils will call them profs, they are not university teachers.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s The Father of My Children impressed me in 2009 with its maturity of insight and elegant filming. L’Avenir is of just as high a standard, shot in Brittany and the Vosges as well as Paris. The director/writer draws heavily on her own experiences and discussed the similarities between Nathalie and her own mother with Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Hansen-Løve made an interesting choice of music, perhaps the most significant piece is the Schubert lied, Auf dem Wasser zu singen (To sing on the water), D774, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

Like yesterday and today may time again escape from me,
Until I on towering, radiant wings
Myself escape from changing time


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