Isabelle Huppert is luminous; whether her face is caught in a smirk while imagining the death of her enemy or rendered stern to keep life's many wolves at bay. Both extremes separately exist in the pair of Isabelle Huppert movies currently in theatrical release. The former, ELLE (Paul Verhoeven, 2016), is one that I wrote at length about in the previous entry. I am stark mad in love with the film and, by way of Huppert's commanding performance, the thought that it might trigger a (long overdue) resurgence of Hollywood-funded Paul Verhoeven movies makes me straight-up giddy. The latter, THINGS TO COME (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016), is by comparison a modest, reserved film, as well as ELLE's opposite when it comes to matters of the extra-filmic. Paul Verhoeven is a veteran director, while Mia Hansen-Løve is a relative newcomer. That THINGS TO COME would feel the more wizened of the two is perhaps perplexing, given the common associations of vim and vigor to youth. While there is plenty nice about Hansen-Løve's film, and Huppert shines in spite of compositions that undermine her acting prowess, it never feels urgent or necessary. However, THINGS TO COME and ELLE share a few surprising and superficial connections.
THINGS TO COME is, in short, a story about an intellectually-fulfilled woman whose life is pushed to its emotional breaking point. "In what ways do you cope with or overcome loss, in all its many forms?," the film appears to ask. It is a perfectly nice film about adapting to, and consciously making, demonstrable - maybe even inevitable - life changes. However, of primary interest to me are the ways in which THINGS TO COME and ELLE are similar, superficial though they may be. The following three elements appear in each, although their prominence varies.
- Stalker: ELLE is centrally about a home invasion and its complicated aftermath. However, in THINGS TO COME, Huppert also (briefly) encounters a predator in a movie theater. The stranger in question puts his hand on Huppert's knee during a screening of CERTIFIED COPY (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010) and makes the first in a series of three unwelcome advances. Although functionally an interlude in the span of THINGS TO COME, and nowhere near as brutally violent an encounter as made manifest in ELLE, it is nonetheless curious that the films would share this specific element - a surreptitious suggestion of a shared continuum.
- Grandchildren: A minor plot point in both films is the birth of a child. In ELLE, a boy is born out of wedlock and - almost assuredly - is the offspring of some man other than the character portraying Huppert's aimless twenty-something of a son (based on the dark tone of child's skin). In THINGS TO COME, Huppert's daughter gives birth to a child. It represents hope, rebirth, or something like it. Maybe it is one of the 'things' that 'comes' throughout the narrative. It is hackneyed and obvious, but nice and sweet. So there.
- Feline Companion: Both of Huppert's characters are cursed with a feline companion. In ELLE, by choice; in THINGS TO COME, as a function of necessity. In ELLE, the cat serves as a kind of cruel comic relief - a passive observer happy to live in a palatial estate, but reluctant to defend it. In THINGS TO COME, the cat is inherited from a deceased relative and an unwelcome addition to Huppert's household. In both, the cats are shown to be impersonal and self-serving creatures, capable of only incomprehensible and misplaced displays of affection. As a result, each in its own way has the cat character fade into the film's background.
What, you might ask, is the significance of the above observations? Nothing at all but a party for the ol' noodle.
- Samuel B. Prime
Founder, LA Ciné Salon