In “Things to Come,” Isabelle Huppert plays a chic, sophisticated Frenchwoman who must re-examine her life and identity when she is confronted with pivotal setbacks. It is a story that could be played for flustered comedy or hysterically pitched melodrama, but in Huppert’s cool hands, it becomes an unlikely parable of liberation and renewed self-worth.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that same synopsis could apply to “Elle,” the edgy, finely tuned Paul Verhoeven movie in which Huppert also stars this season. The two films are uncannily similar — right down to the cats that serve as droll narrative devices as well as Huppert’s controlled, sylphlike persona that manages to imbue every scene she is in with fragility and a fierce refusal to go down without a fight.
Although “Elle” has gotten lots of attention for its rape-driven plot, “Things to Come” in many ways is the more honest, confrontational film, if only because it does not resort to shock value and transgressive sexuality to hook the audience.
It succeeds on the merits, which in this case have to do with the wisdom, welcome or not, that accrues for women as they move through time and confront the everyday losses, laughs and little triumphs of growth and change.
With her fantastic head of Titian hair and physique of a 14-year-old gymnast, the 63-year-old Huppert might be a slightly idealized version of the typical aging woman.
But she is still utterly convincing as Nathalie, a philosophy professor who, as “Things to Come” opens, seems to be living an ideal life with her husband, Heinz, in their sunny, book-filled apartment outside Paris.
But nothing gold can stay: When Heinz announces that he is leaving, a cascade of changes ensues, with Nathalie now forced to reassess her relationships, not just with her soon-to-be ex-husband but also with her drama queen of a mother, her grown daughter, her book publishers and even her students.
Suffused with wry humor, vulnerability and radiant warmth, Huppert’s performance captures that delicate period in life during which resignation morphs into graceful, even grateful, acceptance.
Things to Come
Rated: PG-13 for brief profanity and drug use. Starring: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon and Roman Kolinka. Director: Mia Hansen-Løve. Running time: 102 minutes. Theater: Flicks. In French with subtitles.