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Why ‘Things to Come’ Filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve Refuses to Get Caught Up in Ideologies

Why 'Things to Come' Filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve Refuses to Get Caught Up in Ideologies

READ MORE: Berlin Review: In ‘L’Avenir,’ Isabelle Huppert Takes Stock of Her Life

One of the very best films to emerge from this year’s Berlinale, the competition entry “Things to Come” was written and directed by the
French director Mia Hansen-Løve, with the always-charismatic Isabelle
Huppert in the lead role in a gentle, poignant story about a philosophy teacher whose life falls
apart when her husband leaves and her mother dies. For Huppert’s Nathalie, the only way
to cope with it is to let time take its course — something that proves to be
both a curse and a blessing at the same time. In a way, the film resonates with
the filmmaker’s previous work: While “Goodbye, First love” and “Eden” were
films about passions of youth that wane with time, in “Things to Come,” Nathalie has been in love with philosophy her whole life, but ultimately
discovers she loves life even more.

With the story of a middle-aged philosophy teacher, Hansen-Løve draws on subjects from her own life once again: Her formative years
with her parents, both of whom are professors of philosophy. Knowing her
subject well, “Things to Come” is imbued with the director’s characteristic
brand of realism, as uncompromising in offering easy solutions as it is in
giving in to conventional plot structures.

At first glance, it could be a
completely different kind of film — we’ve seen before the kind of lengthy
discussions of politics and constant referencing of philosophers that her
characters indulge in, but this time, it’s not about showing off. The film
successfully transcends its own intellectualism, showing the truth to be
elsewhere; and above all, telling its story through other means, from what is
left unsaid, to what is going on while others speak. Most of all, the obvious
artistry of Hansen-Løve’s filmmaking testifies of her being a major creative
force of European cinema.

Indiewire sat down with the director to talk about her film latest film and her ever-evolving filmmaking philosophy at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.

Do you see a connection between “Things to Come” and your
two previous films, “Eden” and “Goodbye, First Love”? They all
deal with youthful passions, but in very different ways or at different stages
in life.

They are all films about vocation. They are also films about
the passing of time, even though “Things to Come” takes place within a shorter
time period. I think that the themes of the films are quite similar to each
other, though they take place in different moments of life and in different
worlds; you could even argue that it’s the same world, because they are based
on members of the same family.

The thing that was new for me in terms of filming was that
the character of Nathalie is older than the characters of my previous films.
Also, it is about a philosophy teacher, and even though literature and art was
always present in my films, I never dealt with them in such a concrete and
direct way. In a way, that’s surprising, because both of my parents are philosophy
teachers. This is the world I’ve been growing up in, and my films are often
biographical.
I read that “Eden” was partially
inspired by “Something in the Air,” but actually, I was more reminded of that
film by “Things to Come.” In it, the young people of contemporary Paris, who
are very passionate about politics, seem like a distant echo of the
revolutionary period of the 60s and 70s, perhaps even displaced somehow.

I think there is a dialogue between my films and the films
of Olivier [Assayas]. I can see a connection between my films and a lot of his
films. I guess it has to do with the time we’ve been spending together, for
years, and the artistic similarities between us; there is bound to be some kind
of an unconscious influence. I can even see it and define it after the film is
done, but I don’t think about that while I’m writing.

Actually, I realized
there were some similarities between “Things to Come” and “Clouds of Sils
Maria,” like aging, and the relationship with the nature. 

As far as young people and politics are concerned, I never
thought about the connection between “Something in the Air” and my film because
of that. I know the young people in my film might seem like they’re coming from
another time period, but actually, I’ve met a lot of people like that in my
parents’ social circles, especially my mother’s. In the past years, she’s had
some very talented, very smart students with whom she kept in touch regularly.
At some point, they decided to leave Paris and live in the countryside for
political reasons. It’s something really present in France right now. It’s not
a recreation of a utopia, it’s not a movement — these people are seeking new
ideals individually.

We live in a world where it seems you have to choose between
brutal materialism and blind faith. It’s very hard to be idealistic about the
world we live in, and a lot of people have resigned somehow. But some haven’t.
With my parents and education, I really believe in them, in people who seek
freedom and freedom of thinking. Whatever their way, those are the people I can
connect with. Even though I’m not a gauchiste, a leftist, even if I don’t
exactly believe in the same ideas as they do, the fact that they are looking
for something moves me. 

At the press conference, some journalists questioned the
gender politics of your film [because it doesn’t reference Simone de Beauvoir,
for example], which I thought was beside the point. On the other hand, your
film is about how it feels to be a woman of a certain age.
 

I was only half surprised. What I mean is, a lot of people
have a superficial relationship with films like this, unfortunately. They look
for things that would justify them reacting in a very systematic way. There
were two questions [at the conference] connected to feminism in a way that I
thought was very naïve and simplistic. Even though I would not define myself as
a feminist, because I’m not into ideologies, I obviously firmly believe in
equality between men and women.

My parents were intellectuals and they raised
me to believe in equality on all levels. I can’t see the world any differently;
I have very little tolerance for any view that would oppose it, for anyone
thinking that women can’t or shouldn’t do the same things that men do. Just like a
lot of other people, I find oppression around the world revolting.

But this doesn’t mean I want to translate that into
something so obvious for the audience of my film. I am telling a story about a
character who is free, in all ways in which she can be free. It’s really about
freedom, about a woman who loses everything, and at the point when she’s lost
everything, she finds herself. It is about how inner freedom can help you
through the hard times in life. It’s about faith, strength and it all depends
on freedom. Philosophy is really about that, too.

That’s why the idea that the film is not feminist enough
because I don’t quote women, or philosophy books written by women — which,
actually, is not even true, but that’s not the point — seems absurd. But I know
that unfortunately, some people will cling only to to the obvious, unwilling to
see anything else.

I felt there was a tangible sexual tension between
Nathalie and [the much younger] Fabien, and I thought that in a more politically correct
film, they would end up together or at least have an affair. Did you want to
avoid that so you could stay true to realism?

Thank you for saying that. It really was exactly that, for
me. Yes, there is some kind of love, some kind of sexual tension, there is a
desire between them, but there is also an impossibility. It’s the way life is,
as I observed it. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for everyone, or that
it’s impossible in general, but in this case, in this story, I know it’s impossible.
It just won’t happen. It would be more attractive, more commercially appealing
and sexy to make it happen between them. It would be easier. But it wouldn’t be
the truth. For me, making films is about searching for truth.

I wanted to show the desire and the tension between them,
because it exists, and I think it’s very strong and beautiful. I tried to build
it up increasingly, letting you feel it, and at some point, the film becomes
exclusively about that. It wasn’t there at first, when he was like as son to
her, but progressively, he seems more like a lover. Well, he is not one, but he
could be. But at the same time, I didn’t want to make it happen just to please
the viewer, because it won’t happen, and that’s it.

Actually, that is something that really moves me. It’s very
frustrating, it’s still there, inhabiting the film. At the end of the film,
when we hear the song “Deep Peace” by Donovan, and when she meets him again,
it’s clear that it’s a love story, really. But I liked not saying that explicitly
and I like that the viewers who want to see it will see it, and the ones that
are not interested will not. But for me, after a certain point, this becomes
the heart of the film. 

There’s an anecdote about a sculptor in Claude Lelouch’s “A Man and a Woman,” he supposedly said that in a burning house, if forced to
choose between saving a cat and a Rembrandt painting, he’d save the cat. Your
film made me think of it again. 
Nathalie does initially say that intellectual
fulfillment is enough to be happy, but in the end, she does somehow choose life
over philosophy or politics.

I think you can’t escape life. When she says that,
pretending she can cope with the losses in her life, she’s in a kind of a
denial. My characters say things that are not necessarily true, even if perhaps
they’re not even aware of it. I think the film is really about the force that
brings you back to life; even philosophy is not something that should be
separate from it.

Finding an inner truth, an inner peace, doesn’t mean shutting
the world out. On the contrary, it’s really about embracing it, about not
running either from the inside or the outside.

There is no real resolution in your films, at least not
in terms of conventional screenwriting, the resolution is the passage of time.
Could you talk a bit about your writing process?

For me, making films is about questions, not about the
answers. I guess that if I would have the answers, I wouldn’t have to write the
film at all. When I start writing a film, I do it precisely because I don’t
have a solution to something. I write it to find a way out of suffering. I
guess that is what you call resolution.

Most of the time, there is no happy end
to my films, no real solution in terms of scriptwriting, nothing can happen
that would fix things. People that are dead, are still dead, people that are
gone, are still gone. She can’t be back together with her husband, she can’t
have a love story with this young man. You don’t even know if she’s going to
meet somebody. You can only hope that she will.

But there is something that
happens inside of her, something that has to do with the relationship you have
with yourself, an inner peace. It has to do with experience, with the way you
look at life. And at some point, you feel that the character has found herself.
It’s not a matter of being 20, 30, or 50 years old. It’s path that you have to
take, though you don’t know how long it will last. You don’t know when it’s
going to happen, but at some point, you feel that you’ve been freed of
something.

That is what I’m looking for in my films, because I need that in my
life as well. Besides making films, they are also a way for me to have a
dialogue with myself, with my life, and very often, they are a way for me to
escape my issues and my demons.

I like it how you tell stories without actually talking
about them. Even though people in your films talk a lot, it’s never to reveal
the story. For example, we learn a great deal about Isabelle Huppert’s
character from how she moves around, walks, puts things in the trash angrily,
and so on.
 

It’s always about how something is said, what is being left
out, what lies beneath, there’s always a subtext. I think — compared to other
talky films, maybe — there are also long moments of silence. I think it’s about
the balance, the feeling that comes from this movement back and forth between
dialogue and silence.

I never told Isabelle Huppert to walk in a certain way, but
I always give a lot of attention to the shoes the actors wear, because it
changes the way of walking, and talking, too. It is true that in my films,
you’ll see people walking a lot. I was often told I keep filming promenades,
people strolling, and while I wasn’t aware of it, it made me realize that
portraying people, capturing their presence has to do with thinking, talking,
but also with how they look, not just the face, but also how they walk, their
gait, how they appear physically, with their entire body. There is a landscape
being formed by their presence.

I know that it keeps appearing in my films again
and again, but I can’t imagine a portrait without seeing the character walking
in the street, downstairs, and so on.

Could you tell me a bit about the Juliette Binoche
appearance in the film, when Nathalie goes to the cinema [its a brief excerpt
from the film “Certified Copy” by Abbas Kiarostami]?

I wanted it to be a film that was made in 2011, because my
film takes place in 2011. It also had to be a film that a philosophy teacher in
Paris would see. There were a few films that I could get the rights for, and
Kiarostami’s was one of them. It’s not my favorite film of his, to be honest,
but I thought that it is exactly the kind of film that Nathalie would see.

It
was fun to have Isabelle Huppert look at Juliette Binoche, to have both of
their faces together in a shot. I don’t know, there was something about it that
fascinated me.

It’s funny, because you all know each other in real life,
so there’s always the question if the in-universe version of Juliette Binoche
in your film knows a version of Isabelle Huppert.

From time to time, I like to create a dialogue between films
and reality. A film-in-a-film wakes you up, reminds you that there is a reality
out there. It’s interesting to create the confusion between films, fiction and
reality, the way references to other films are made. I never referenced other
films — I don’t generally like that — but my characters do often speak about
the films they’ve seen, like in “Goodbye, First Love,” for instance. Lots of
filmmakers and screenwriters avoid that, because they’re afraid that it would
take the viewer out of the film.

In “Things to Come,” the young man, Fabien, says to Nathalie
that she’ll find another man and she replies that that won’t happen. He asks, “Why not?” and she says that things like that only happen in films. I know
it’s the kind of line that filmmakers don’t usually allow themselves — if
you’re in a film, you shouldn’t say you’re in one, because it will distract the
viewer — but I like the idea. I like the confusion, because it’s the way I experience
films.

My mind is always going back between reality and fiction, and I wanted
this confusion to be a part of my films, too.

“Things To Come” premiered this week at the Berlin International Film Festival. Sundance Selects will release it in the U.S.

READ MORE: Berlin: Sundance Selects Picks Up Mia Hansen-Løve’s Popular Competition Title ‘Things to Come’

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