Mia Hansen-Løve has, over the last few years, made her mark as one of France’s finest directors. Her latest, Things to Come reiterates some of the themes of her earlier films including All Is Forgiven, Father of my Children and Goodbye First Love, whilst simultaneously showing the way forward. Unlike her two last offerings, these have never before been screened in Norwegian cinemas. The largest national cinemas are now showing a retrospective programme dedicated to the French director well worth a visit.
When Mia Hansen-Løve (born 1981) debuted with All Is Forgiven in 2007, she was already an established writer for French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma and had acted in Late August, Early September (1998) and Sentimental Destinies (2000), directed by Olivier Assaya. Today, Assaya and Hansen-Løve are married with children, and each other’s most important artistic supporters. In All Is Forgiven, we first encounter Pamela as a young girl. Her father, Victor, a French author with an emerging addiction problem, and her Austrian mother Anette barely speak the same language, and even less so with each other. Their relationship ebbs and flows in step with Victor’s addiction, until Anette leaves him, taking their daughter abroad. Only years later, as a teenager, does Pamela reunite with her father in Paris. The meeting sets the tone for them both, and Hansen-Løve depicts with raw empathy the how a bond between children and parents develop over time. However, not only, a powerful story about the relationship between father and daughter – the film is also an intelligent drama about forgiveness. And thus, steers towards Hansen-Løve’s next film.
JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU’S BOoK JULIE; or, the new ELOiSE becomes the film’s central reference work.
Fluctuating. The father plays a central part also in the 2009 Father of My Children. But, in a departure from the first film, the key character is successful film producer Canvel. Despite his artistic success, he has money problems, and, surprisingly enough, ends his own life. This way, not only his children, but also his widow, are left sorting out his finances and other secrets in the aftermath of his passing. The film is based on the life of producer Humbert Balsan. Mia Hansen-Løve and Balsan agreed to work together, prior to his death. This never happened, and the film, akin to the first, reflects on family relations under pressure, but also on how far artistic ambitions can push you. Hansen-Løve’s third feature, Goodbye First Love, on the other hand, is a finely tuned coming-of-age portrayal, and perhaps closer to the director’s own experiences as a woman. Fifteen-year old Camille is passionately in love with Sullivan, who leaves her to indulge his own desire for freedom and to search. Only years later, as Camille starts her architecture studies, does she recover her belief in the future and in love. She meets an older professor of architecture, played by talented, Norwegian actor Magne Håvard Brekke, and, together with him, rediscovers her place in life. The film depicts Camille’s journey from teenager to a young woman, and life’s fluidity over time.
Breakthrough. Finally, her forth film, the 2014 Eden, introduced Mia Hansen-Løve to a Norwegian – and international – audience. This feature, based on Hansen-Løve’s own brother Sven’s experiences as a DJ just as French electronica exploded onto the music scene worldwide, portrays a young boy who loses himself to music. In many ways, a generational portrait, reminiscent of the film universe of Joachim Triers. One which, perhaps in particular, shows parallel lines with Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film, is Triers’ latest offering, the 2015 Louder Than Bombs (recently awarded the Nordic Council Film Prize. In Things to Come, Isabelle Huppert, yet again, plays a central and instrumental role. It is largely due to her portrayal of Nathalie – an active philosophy professor living in Paris – which made the film and led to Hansen-Løve’s international breakthrough. Through Things to Come’s well written and truthful dialogues, interjected by poetic moments and suggestive music, Hansen-Løve reflects again on changing family dynamics – but this is not all. Philosophy and politics play crucial roles here. Without employing the use of unnecessary means, Hansen-Løve explores, not only female and maternal roles specifically, but also what it means to live freely, at one with nature and yourself. In this film, it is not first and foremost the husband, children or the publisher who restrict Nathalie, but rather her own mother. The mother’s repeated and hysterical calls make Nathalie drop everything at any one time and run to her aid. Her friendship with her former philosophy student Fabien, on the other hand, as he opts to relocate from Paris to a French mountain town, is its mirror opposite – a life of freedom and at one with nature. It is perhaps not without reason that Nathalie reaches for philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of the Community Charter, as she unexpectedly gains a new freedom which she is unsure how to handle.
Surprisingly, Nathalie does not react by screaming or wailing, but rather with restrained expressions and an underlying vulnerability, when she is left for another woman. It is in the lessons with her students, during philosophical recitals that she reflects on her experiences. In particular, Rousseau’s book Julie; or, the New Eloise (1761) becomes a central work of reference in the film. As the book title suggests, it depicts the famous love story and correspondence between Abélard and Eloise – a passion which endured his castration, mutual monastic living and separation. Hundreds of letters describe the explorations of love between pious aristocrat Miss Julie and lower class tutor Saint-Preux. Like this story, parts of Things to Come, between Nathalie and her former philosophy student Fabien, is also set at the foot of the Alps. But unlike Rousseau, this relationship does not seem erotic – instead, as with the philosopher himself, a way to reflect on the transience of time and society. With parents who are both philosophy professors, one might suspect Hansen-Løve of being more than just a little familiar with philosophy’s reflection space and reasoning.
The future. More philosophical than her previous offerings, Things to Come Hansen-Løve reflects on what total freedom is, or can it be said to be. In redirecting the focus from the father, herself and the brother, and on to the mother, Things to Come closes, thus far, the circuit on Hansen-Løve’s films about families under pressure and transience. The film’s main theme is not Nathalie’s choices, but the way in which she views the future, the day tomorrow. What may appear as resignation, is instead – if one takes the original film title, L’avenir («the future»), literally– seen as a potential new beginning, whereby everything, somehow, may or may not happen. What tomorrow will bring, is, as Jacques Derrida emphasises, unknown. It will thus be interesting to see what drama will play out in Hansen-Løve’s next venture. What is certain though, is that Things to Come has secured her place among French cinema’s finest auteurs.
A complete retrospective of Hansen-Løve’s roster of films is screened at the Cinematheques in Norway during November and December 2016.