With Isabelle Huppert, Edith Scrob, Andre Marcon, Roman Kolinka
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) teaches philosophy and is married to a professor — together they have two adult children. The movie opens with the family visiting the grave of Chateaubriand high above the cliffs of Saint Malo in Brittany. This scene sets the mood–thoughtful, serious– as the slightly disunited family experiences life together.
Nathalie is a textbook writer whose editor and marketing people at her publishing house let her know in not so subtle terms that her day has come and is about to leave her behind. Marketing forces demand something more profitable, something with built in popup ads. The title of the movie, “L’avenir” comes from the conversation she has with her publisher about the future of her textbook (uncertain). Her husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), too, with some prodding by her disloyal daughter has chosen someone younger to replace her. She is being forced to take sides over a political squabble on campus about the rights of young versus older teachers whose pensions threaten to rob the young of a decent livelihood.
On top of these problems, add an aged mother (Edith Scrob) whose madness is life threatening and whose demands Nathalie can not possibly keep up with.
All of these dilemmas are faced head on with sang froid. Nathalie is a woman whose main mission in life is to teach young people the great thinkers so that they too can go forward in their lives fortified with if not wisdom, the ability to think for themselves.
Isabelle Huppert owns every scene of the movie, and since she is in all scenes, it is a good thing that she is worth the attention. The people depicted are upper class, with two beautifully appointed houses, and no mention of money is made when the couple separate. The only time money comes up is when the mother is forced to move into a retirement home. It is difficult to read subtitles that flash by with quotations from Rousseau and Pascal. I wonder if fluency in French would have made a difference. Perhaps not the most cinematic way to delve into philosophy in a movie, making the viewer wish she had a book to mull over.
Flowers play their part in this movie about a woman who has to suffer several serious losses in the course of a summer. Nathalie throws bouquets away or brings them along depending on the intention of the giver. Nathalie knows her own mind, and does not suffer fools. Even though the tone is a little chilly, perhaps even clinical, I am always glad to watch movies made by women starring women of a certain age who are usually relegated to the heap of former beauties (actresses over 40). Mia Hansen-Love is onto something here.
The aging population copes with these problems (divorce, aging parents, falling out of political favor) all the time. Life is complicated, and our political positions don’t always speak to the age we live in.
Nathalie is not to be pitied, revered, or admired. She is one of us, and as she sings to her grandchild, she endures.
For more on Hansen-Love’s process of making this film, Slant ran an interview available at this link.