Greetings again from the darkness. What was once a rarity is now becoming more commonplace … movies made by women about women. This latest from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love (Eden, 2014) features one of the most interesting lead characters from any film this year.
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy professor, writer, longtime wife to Heinz (Andre Marcon), mother of two grown children, and care-taker to a depressed, slightly-dementia-stricken mother (Edith Scob) who is prone to calling for emergency workers when Nathalie doesn’t answer her phone calls. The film offers no murder mystery, alien invasion or other earth-rattling event. Instead it guides us through Nathalie’s process in dealing with life things that occur on a daily basis.
The genius of the film, script and character stems from the fact that Nathalie never creates drama where none exists … a rare personality trait these days. Rather than plead for mercy from the universe, she simply plows forward during what would be three personal-world-crumbling events in a lesser movie: her husband cheats and leaves her, her mother dies, and she is fired (or at least forced to move off her method) from the job she loves.
Ms. Huppert delivers yet another stellar performance (see her in this year’s Elle) as Nathalie. She is an intellectual and thoughtful woman, but not necessarily the warm and cuddly type. Sure she cares for her family and inspires her students, and rather than lash out at her confessing husband, she only shows frustration when he takes a couple of her beloved books in his move out (or stuffing his flowers in the trash can). Disappointment is more obvious when her prized former-pupil Fabien (Roman Kolinka) is unable to competently debate his radical views with her … choosing instead a condescending, brusque approach designed to shut her down.
Nathalie is more shocked by her publisher’s intention to “modernize” her book than by finding “The Unabomber Manifesto” on the shelf at Fabien’s commune for intelligent anarchists. The politics of a particular situation has influence on nearly every scene, and Ms. Hansen-Love’s script emphasizes the importance of seasoning/experience in handling life … and does a remarkable job contrasting those who have it from those who don’t. Few movie soundtracks include both Woody Guthrie and Schubert, but then both fit well when the story avoids a mid-life self-discovery, and instead focuses on the realization of freedom. These are two very different things, and you’d have a difficult time finding a better look than this film offers.