Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Besides a complicated mother-daughter relationship and a ubiquitous feline, there is a world of difference between Isabelle Huppert's two critically-acclaimed films of 2016, Elle and Things To Come; Paul Verhoeven's rape-revenge thriller is as in-your-face as Mia Hansen-Love's study of female mid-life crises is meditative. Both films, of course, boast a stellar performance by Ms Huppert, as inscrutable in the former as she is transparent (yet somewhat elusive) in the latter.
A professor of philosophy at a Paris university, Nathalie Chazeaux (Huppert) is adored by her students and lives a comfortable bourgeois existence with her husband, and fellow professor, Heinz (Andre Marcon); their two children, Chloe (Sarah Le Picard) and Johann (Solal Forte), having already flown the family nest. Seemingly living in domestic and professional bliss, Nathalie is soon shaken from her bubble; first, her mother (Edith Scob) has to be moved to a nursing home, having threatened self harm and calling the fire department once too often (the aforementioned cat, a black and obese creature named Pandora, belonging to her but falling into Nathalie's care); and then Heinz reveals he has a lover, and he will be moving in with her.
Forced into a mid-life crisis, Nathalie doesn't rail against the world, or even her philandering husband. She seems to take it all on the chin with resolve if not good grace; the occasional cry her only concession to her lot. She doesn't seem to have any friends either (at least none Hansen-Love seems concerned with introducing), other than former student and self-professed anarchist, Fabien (Roman Kolinka). Nathalie -- and Pandora -- travelling to his country farm where like-minded radicals drink, smoke and debate the ways of the world. Or just go swimming, and drink and smoke some more.
Unlike a film about a man's mid-life crisis, there are no sports cars or sex-capades. And while Hansen-Love may tease at an obvious attraction between Nathalie and Fabien, she knows better than to deliver on cliche. On the other hand, when Nathalie scoffs at the suggestion of romance, declaring "I'm a grandmother", the audience just as easily scoffs at the suggestion that Huppert could be anything but desirable at any age.
The lack of action may bother those more conditioned to a Hollywood take on mid-life crises, but Hansen-Love's films aren't driven by, or are slaves to plot; things happen just as they would in life: there's no heightened emotions or contrived events in Things To Come, just her fifth feature (though you may need a degree in philosophy to obtain some deeper meaning). Life has handed Nathalie some lemons, and she's going to make the best tasting citron presse she possibly can.
Career woman and doting grandmother may seem at odds -- and not particularly heroic in a filmic sense -- but by the time Unchained Melody plays (performed not by The Righteous Brothers but by 1950s a capella group The Fleetwoods), you get the sense that Nathalie is going to be just fine.