*This review was originally published at The Film Experience as part of the coverage of the 66th Berlinale.
Mia Hansen-Løve has established herself as one of world cinema’s most exciting young filmmakers in the past few years. Her latest, L’Avenir (Things to Come) came to Berlinale as one of the festival’s most anticipated films. Starring Isabelle Huppert as Nathalie, a middle-aged philosophy teacher on the verge of significant changes in her personal and professional life, L’Avenir is an intimate, life-affirming character study with a superb star turn from Huppert.
The serenity of Nathalie’s life seems to come apart at the seams all at once. Her publisher decides to cancel her long-standing book deal, her children have left to find their own paths and moved away, her chronically depressed mother needs Nathalie’s consistent care and her husband’s infidelity is about to come to light. In the face of this mess, Nathalie tries to find solace in teaching and in her acquaintance with a former student who has left the city to live deep in the mountains with a group of fellow young ‘revolutionaries.’
Huppert’s performance exhibits an unexpected level of warmth not generally associated with her characters. She delivers a masterwork of characterization, balancing with great tactility Nathalie’s melancholy concession to her life slipping through her fingers, with the gradual resurgence of joyous liberation. This is a relaxed, subtle performance where the most powerful effect is found in the smallest gestures.
Hansen-Løve’s direction is equally relaxed, toying with the audience’s expectations with sinuous camera movements and the unpredictably altering structures and lengths of scenes as the golden-hued mise-en-scène draws us in. L’Avenir can do without some of recitations of philosophy that intermittently take over the dialogue, but this is an otherwise significant step forward, formally and thematically, for the director.