After a gutsy performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Isabelle Huppert is back again in Mia Hansen-Løve’s L’avenir. Huppert plays philosophy professor Nathalie Chazeaux. We are in 2010 and Chazeaux is trying to teach, but there is a student strike against Nicolas Sarkozy’s retirement pension reform. She finds the idea of young people concerned about retirement ridiculous, and ploughs through the blockage to teach to the few students who are there to learn. She’s in her sixties and lives a quiet life with Heinz (Andre Marçon), her husband of 25 years. The couple have two adult kids. L’avenir is somewhat misleading, as it does not initially seems to be about anything else than Nathalie, her colleagues, friends and family speaking at length about philosophy, philosophers and books on philosophy. You might think this is arid, but it’s all about the delivery. You may do the same film with people invested, as these characters are, by films, theatre, sport cars or nine-inch nails, and make it as poignant as Hansen-Løve is able do here. One day, Heinz announces he is leaving Nathalie for another woman. Nathalie seems more upset at Heinz for leaving with some of her favourite philosophy books than about the other woman. But she has other things to worry about. Her mother, Yvette (Edith Scob) is proving more difficult for her to handle and she has to place her in a retirement home. Elsewhere, Nathalie still maintains a friendship with former student Fabien (Roman Kolinka), but we feel that secretly hopes that they could be more than friends. When Yvette dies, Nathalie looses all semblance of control over her life and she’s left there helpless as her emotional safety nets are taken away from her one by one. When she finds something to hang on to, it soon is also taken away. The philosophers she has studied her whole life are of no help to her. They do not offer her any solution to ease the pain. I will let others attempt a more intellectual reading. Between Elle and L’avenir, Huppert shows us such a range that she seems to be able to do effortlessly. And that’s the trick. It must look easy, but, oh boy, when the tap of tears is turned up in L’avenir, it breaks our heart. During a shot where she is riding in a car after Yvette dies, and Nathalie looks out the window in tears. It dawned on me that Isabelle Huppert was, along with Arlety, Deneuve, Ingrid Bergman, Giulietta Masina, Paul Belmondo, Humphrey Bogart, Bacall, Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Gabin and Simone Signoret, among the great classic faces of cinema.
L’avenir (Things to come)
In French, English and German with English subtitles.