Perhaps it was A.O. Scott’s coronation of Isabelle Huppert as “the world’s greatest actress” that sealed my assessment of her latest film, “Things To Come” (L’Avenir in French). In it, Ms. Huppert plays the part of a middle-aged philosophy professor whose biggest problem is her aging, intensely neurotic and demanding mother, a character played more for laughs than for pity. The rest of Isabelle’s life is purring along smoothly; she is adored by her students, her husband, children, publisher and hunky former student who invites her to his home for the weekend, a tease for the audience. Within short order, all the preceding perfections fall apart and Isabelle does get one chance at a good cry. But faster than you can say Mon Dieu, she perks up and resumes her purposeful career, her terrific relationship with her students and a new role as grandmother. It led me to think that Mme Huppert’s stiff upper lip was more British than Gallic and that this part might have been more believable played by Kristin Scott-Thomas who at least is half of each.
This is a movie that remains superficial. Picking up on the banal philosophy quotations sprinkled throughout the script as shorthand for gravitas, the dialogue is sterile and boring. It lacks depth and emotion and Huppert’s performance, as is true of most of her work, lacks affect. By contrast, think of the short scene in Manchester By The Sea in which Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck meet on the street and she insists on explaining her past actions - a few restrained minutes packed with more poignancy, fragility and heartbreak than the total screenplay in Things to Come. Surely being discarded by a long-term husband who shared your life-work, your parentage and your taste in music is worth more than the brief remark “I thought you would love me forever.” Audiences should not be intimidated by serious critics implying that there is more to this film than most of them will experience. It’s a dud. So is Isabelle whose facial expressions remain frozen for its duration. The small bursts of color allotted to us are in the various sundresses and sportswear worn by the actress and these are hardly designer clothes. On the positive side, there is a soundtrack that includes Woody Guthrie, German arias or lieder and the slow harmonic version of Unchained Melody sung by the Fleetwoods - a haunting and unforgettable thing of beauty revived from the fifties. Would that the screenplay had summoned as much feeling as this poetic song.
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