How do we deal with all the challenges in life? Can philosophy be practical when encountering losses in life? These are the questions explored in this French cinematic masterpiece, L’avenir, Things To Come (2016) – literally translated from French as ‘future’.
Source: BFM Film Forever
What is L’avenir, Things To Come?
The film revolves around Natalie (portrayed by Isabelle Huppert), a middle aged woman that teaches philosophy in a high school. The film shows her confronting life-changing challenges – divorce from her husband’s affair, followed by the death of her mother and the difficulty of publishing her written philosophy textbook. The story covers how Natalie copes with these events, with the incorporation of many philosophical discussions, creating the existential atmosphere that permeates throughout the film.
Surprisingly, though the story discusses the impact of these traumatic life losses, the director and screen writer don’t overwhelm their audiences by encompassing more direct and less emotional scenes as well. It’s not your usual chaotic cry-fest that would appear in a typical drama. Instead, the film possesses a quiet aura, which complements the calm ambience of the film. These scenes are a testament to what the film is trying to tell us: we all have the ability to withstand challenges with calm and grace.
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What Do We Love About It?
Things to Come is a feminist celebration, led by the strong female direction of Mia Hansen-Løve. It is told from the perspective of an independent woman who has learnt the difficulties of being silently strong in the face of challenges that could break anyone.
Throughout the film, Isabelle Huppert’s artistry lies in her captivating eyes and the audience finds themselves watching each scene, waiting for what emotion will flit across them next. They are absolutely charming, filled with pride, hinting at her smart and determined traits as illustrated in the story. While the character of Natalie tends to act calmly, her eyes are what hold her fury and melancholy. Scenes with her emotional bursts reinforce her character’s depth, revealing the hidden complexity under all those layers of silence.
Natalie holds her student in a conversation about philosophy.
Source: BFM Film Forever
The Question of Philosophy
Philosophy quotes and books are exposed deliberately in the film, sometimes reflecting the situation faced by Natalie. How these two are related in the film seems to imply that you cannot live without philosophy.
A question arises when Natalie’s challenges in life collide with her role as a philosophy teacher: Can the knowledge of philosophy be applied in life? If this is responded by Natalie’s student, Fabien, the answer could be a yes, in which he suggests that philosophy has saved his life. Natalie, on the other hand, struggles to maintain the equilibrium between her action and theory. In other words, she emphasises philosophy before her actions, which jeopardises her own needs.
“Fabien: You don’t let everyday behaviour betray your values. You don’t envisage a thought system requiring a change in your lifestyles.”
As such, this leads us to think about how philosophy can be both restrictive and a guide in our lives. This is a rather fresh movie to me, addressing loss by relating philosophy and life simultaneously. Some may find it boring, as the plot develops slowly, including little or no scenes of high intensity conflict. Nevertheless, the distinctive artistry in the film is well portrayed by Mia Hansen-Love, winning her the Silver Bear for Best Director award in the Berlin International Film Festival.
Things to Come, tells us that there are beautiful things or moments yet coming to life. Life has many sides, and we cannot avoid the worst of it to only expect happiness – after all, the best parts of life are the ones worth fighting for.
Written by Koh Hui Ru