"Things To Come" is a French film about a woman in mid-life made by a woman in her early 30s.
It stars Isabelle Huppert and is written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. It’s the fifth feature film from Hansen-Løve, who started making movies in the early 2000s. Huppert has her beat by a bit — she began her acting career in the early 1970s. But Huppert now seems to be working more than ever.
In fact this winter the French actress has two movies in theaters. She also stars in the Paul Verhoven film, "Elle" — a role that landed her the award for best actress at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
But her part in "Things To Come" is perhaps quieter and more nuanced. In it, Huppert plays a philosophy teacher who is forced to reconsider her life when she learns that her husband is leaving her.
“Things To Come” had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. That's where the Frame's host, John Horn, caught up with Mia Hansen-Løve and Isabelle Huppert to discuss the film's inspiration and subtle character portrayals.
Click the play button above to hear their full conversation or read below for highlights.
On how Huppert's character approaches her work and her love of teaching:
IH: I think that's what struck me most when I first read the script was the potential of the possibility for me to be... I wouldn't say funny, but there was a sense of humor — there was a sense of distance that runs constantly throughout the film. That for me was probably the most important because I was sure that the movie was never going to be either too dark or too sentimental. [It] was never going to fall into this kind of cliche. One could feel the potential of nuances in the film — of subtlety. This perfect mixture between lightness and — I wouldn't say heaviness — pain, because there is pain. But the ironical distance that's in the film was very important. It was all there already in the writing of the script and in the dialogues. I think the dialogues are so important for an actress when you read the script for the first time because it's through the dialogues more than the situations, more than the characters that you really project yourself immediately. It happens to me sometimes — to be willing to do a film just because I wanted to say one line. You see yourself through this one line.
On what about philosophers Hansen-Løve wanted to show in the film:
MHL: Both of my parents were philosophy teachers for years and years so it's the world I've been growing up in. I guess there's a connection between the character and my mother somehow. I wouldn't say I made the film in order to pay tribute to her because I don't think you can make a film to play tribute, in general. I think you make a film because you need to express something. It has to do with some intimate necessity. So the goal was not to say 'thank you' or whatever, but there certainly is something in the character that is connected to my mother. Not only the world that I am depicting and that she lives in — this world of teaching and of books — but also this distance, this irony that Isabelle was talking about. It's something that I thought — and now I see things a little bit differently — but I thought, at the time, belonged to my mother than more to me. I was seeing her and seeing other women facing very difficult situations in life and I was admiring them and also curious about where they find the strength. I was wondering, where will I find strength if that happens to me? So I guess for me making the film was a way to find out what freedom is and how you can be free without having solved all the problems.
On philosophy as it applies to real-life situations:
IH: This is obviously what Mia manages to convey in her film. I thought that was also the beauty for me in doing the film. Even in French films, you don't have that many films about philosophy. The way the philosophy infused the film is really attractive. If you say that you're doing a movie about a philosophy teacher, people might think, oh it's going to be very abstract or it's going to be very dry or very conceptual. But in this case, no — philosophy becomes very concrete. First of all, she's a philosophy teacher and that's very important. She's not living in her ideas abstractly. No. She transmits her ideas for the sake of life not for the sake of being in an invented world. She transmits those ideas to the students to be prepared for life — for the movement of life. The way Mia uses philosophy in the film is very concrete as it is for most young students. I noticed that when students come to study philosophy at the end of their studies in France, all of the sudden... Let's say a young student might not be interested in literature, but they very quickly are interested in philosophy because they understand how it comes across so many topics. It becomes political, sociological. It's really concrete. It speaks for your life and your contemporary life.
On why Hansen-Løve wrote a film about someone much older than herself:
MHL: I don't think in terms of age. I've been making films about very different characters. All of my films were some kind of portrait, but they were young men, young girls — very different people. For me they are the same kind of portraits that I do with empathy and love and comprehension. When I start writing a film, I don't have in my mind the concrete information on the character. It really comes from some kind of emotion and identification. So the difference of age that there was at the beginning and that could create a distance between me and the character when I started writing it just tended to become more and more significant the more I went along with the process. At the end, when the film was over, I was like, it's me! It's kind of weird, but for me it really makes sense because I think films are always ways from one point to another. For me, making this film was really about this. It was about joining the character. First I thought it would be a film about my mother and it ended up being a film about me. When I say about me, it's not like it's about me like what the film says. I mean the emotions and the fillings and the quest for freedom. All of this ended up being my own concern at the end.
“Things to Come” opens in limited release on December 2nd. The film will go into more theaters the following week.