One reason why Isabelle Huppert makes suffering so compelling on screen is her sheer -- well, "unflappability" isn't quite the right word. It's a kind of ironic distance, perhaps: The actress can convey curiosity, bewilderment and coolness all at once, even as she deals with the most agonizing of circumstances. But there's pain there, too, lurking just under the surface. Somewhere beneath the calm perseverance is an ever-present, though often subtle, vulnerability.
In the great pantheon of Huppert Hurt-a-thons, Mia Hansen-Love's lovely new drama Things to Come is relatively mild stuff, suffering-wise. Here she endures just a shitty divorce, a professional crisis and a sad-but-not-entirely-unexpected death in the family. Huppert plays Nathalie Chazeaux, a philosophy professor and author who has captivated generations of students. Her husband leaves her for another woman. Then her publisher decides not to renew her contract. There's more, but I'll leave it at that.
Nathalie begins to feel not just the anxiety of a 50-something woman seemingly left alone in the world, but also a sense of renewed possibility: "I've gained my freedom," she tells her protégé and onetime student Fabien (Roman Kolinka), even if it doesn't quite seem like she believes it.
"Can the truth be questioned?" Nathalie asks her students. "Debating truth is one thing, contesting it is another." In other words, facts are facts, but their nature can change. That's a good way to describe Hansen-Løve's style, too: It is both grounded and loose. Her compositions are matter-of-fact, her angles eye-level; she's not an expressionist. And yet her camera drifts, sometimes subtly, exploring even the most mundane of spaces and situations with trepidation and possibility.