Mia Hansen-Løve, after drawing on her life in her past films including Eden and The Father of My Children, now in Things to Come mines her relationship with her mother as she recalls grappling with her parent’s separation. By the time the film premiered in Berlin last year, Hansen-Løve, 36, was experiencing her own separation from her partner of 15 years, Personal Shopper director Olivier Assayas, 62, with whom she has a daughter. Hence as she promoted the film over the following year, she was facing the things to come in her own life.
In the fictionalised story, Isabelle Huppert plays the mother, a high school philosophy teacher whose life is slowly falling apart. The health of her elderly mother is going downhill and in the new digital age, her publishing career is faltering. With all her preoccupations, she fails to realise that her philosophy teacher husband has a lover, and after the marriage dissolves, she decides that perhaps she should take one of those herself, or maybe just find a bit of solitude.
Huppert is formidable as always, though not in the ferocious way we so often see her. In this year’s awards season, critics groups frequently paired their awards so that Huppert was nominated for both Elle and Things to Come. Hansen-Løve won the Berlin Festival’s best Director Silver Bear for her film.
HB: You draw on your own life in your films.
MHL: All my films are personal but in different ways. They deal with my life but they’re not autobiographical.
HB: Why are you working in this way?
MHL: I don't know if it’s luck or a handicap but I didn't go to film school. So I follow my instincts to find my inspiration. I let things come to me. This film recalls the world I saw as a child, my parents’ separation and their universe of teaching philosophy. It’s my fifth film and the first time I’ve so openly revealed the world I grew up in. I was scared in the beginning and I really took my time to approach it.
"It’s based on my memories of my mother and grandmother, on the female solitude in dealing with the difficulties of life and growing old. [...] These themes scared me, but there was a moment when I wanted to confront them."
HB: How is it personal?
MHL: It’s based on my memories of my mother and grandmother, on the female solitude in dealing with the difficulties of life and growing old. It’s about my mother’s separation and her difficulty to bounce back at this moment in her life and it’s about my grandmother, an older woman who suffers from depression and feels abandoned when she has to go to a nursing home because she can no longer look after herself. These themes scared me but there was a moment when I wanted to confront them. Paradoxically, although it was a painful subject for me, the writing came very easily.
HB: Your parents taught philosophy in French high schools, and it’s a subject that is not on the high school curriculum in many countries including Australia. Did that have an effect on you?
MHL: It’s interesting because philosophy was not my best subject. Still my parents instilled in me a sensibility to help me take the good from life, to appreciate beauty and to seek the truth. These interrogations filtered into my cinema.
HB: What effect did your parent’s separation have on you?
MHL: I was 20 when they separated and I had an early intellectual maturity. It wasn't that I was brilliant or anything, but there was a certain gravity they transmitted to me, a certain melancholy. I became an adult very early and I left home very early.
HB: What effect did your relationship with Olivier Assayas have on your work?
MHL: It was a relationship that was fundamental to my artistic development. He was not my teacher but we discussed the books I should read, the films I should watch. It was a huge intellectual exchange. He’s passionate about cinema like I am.
HB: Charles Gillibert (Assayas’s Olivier’s longtime producer) who produced Things to Come and Eden, as well as Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, has becomes the guardian angel of woman filmmakers in France.
MHL: Yes, with Eden he wasn't my producer at the beginning, but it was proving difficult and expensive, and Charles literally saved the day. He continued working with me on Things to Come and it was incredible to make a film so fast. Charles is very international. He has a real modernity and is young.
HB: You played Isabelle Huppert’s daughter in Assayas’s 2000 film Sentimental Destinies. Is she easy to work with? Is she a normal woman?
MHL: (Laughs) Normal is not the word I’d use, but there are a million other things to say about the woman and the actress. She has a talent, a genius that you can’t explain. Her energy and her capacity for work are unique. She can perform a theatre piece in the evening while making a film and then take a plane to pick up a prize on her free day. She’s engaged in her film projects at the script level, and when she’s on stage she says it’s like rest for her. Her appetite for life and work is extraordinary. I get tired just thinking about everything she does.
"[Isabelle's] appetite for life and work is extraordinary. I get tired just thinking about everything she does."
HB: This is an unusual role for her.
MHL: Isabelle is known for playing hard, scary, intimidating women, but she also has an innocence which I find very touching. I tried to find that for her when I was writing this film. It was the first screenplay I wrote from the start with someone in mind. The idea of making a film with Isabelle was a dream for me, but I had to find the right role. I knew if one person could play this part it would be her, not only because of how much I admire her but because of her authority, also intellectually. I knew she would be credible as a philosophy teacher.
Watch 'Things to Come'
Wednesday 6 January, 7:35pm on SBS World Movies
Friday 8 January, 2:10am on SBS World Movies
Now streaming at SBS On Demand
France, Germany, 2016
Language: French, English, German
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard