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L’avenir (2016) Review: Embracing the Unknown Future!

Nathalie Chazeaux stands and speaks to Fabien, who is sitting with his legs crossed, attentively listening.

“L’avenir” follows the journey of a middle-aged philosophy teacher, Nathalie, as she navigates through unexpected changes and confronts the realities of life.

Nathalie’s Meticulously Ordered Life

In the film “L’avenir,” directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, we are introduced to Nathalie, a philosophy teacher in her sixties with a meticulously planned and busy life. Throughout the day, she teaches classes, engages in academic discussions, and attends meetings with the publishing company that printed her textbook years ago. At night, she tends to her home, prepares meals for her children, and engages in routine conversations with her husband of twenty-five years. In addition, Nathalie must also care for her hypochondriac and depressed mother, who often calls her in a panic or even attempts suicide.

Two people, Nathalie Chazeaux and Fabien, walk down a road. This is the cover photo of the movie L'avenir.

Despite the chaos that surrounds her, Nathalie seems content with her routine and has grown accustomed to dealing with the problems of those around her. However, a series of unexpected events suddenly disrupts her carefully ordered life, setting her on a path towards significant change.

Mia Hansen-Løve, a rising star in European cinema, made her directorial debut in her early twenties after beginning her career as an actress in the late 90s. With films such as “Goodbye First Love” (2011) and “Eden” (2014), Hansen-Løve explored the emotional landscape of adolescence and young adulthood, solidifying her reputation as a director with a keen eye for the complexities of human experience.

With “L’avenir,” Hansen-Løve shifts her focus to the story of a woman on the cusp of old age. Despite this departure from her previous work, the film retains the youthful energy and sincerity that have become hallmarks of her style. Through Nathalie’s journey of growth and self-discovery, Hansen-Løve reminds us that even in the face of unexpected change and upheaval, there is always the possibility for renewal and growth.

Coping with Change and Aging

In the heart of the movie “L’avenir” lies the question of how an aging woman copes with the major changes that time brings without warning. Nathalie, despite calmly accepting her husband’s confession of being with another woman and subsequent abandonment, begins to succumb to fears of aging alone and dying. During a conversation with her former student Fabien, Nathalie reveals that she no longer expects love in her life and feels fortunate to be able to take refuge in her books and academic pursuits, yet a hint of concern is reflected in her eyes. Even as she sheds tears while placing her capricious mother in a nursing home, there is a sense of both guilt over abandoning her and a dread that a similar fate may befall herself.

Two people, Nathalie Chazeaux and Heinz, stand side by side. Nathalie is holding a swaddled baby in her arms.

However, the collapse of the fundamental pillars of the structure Nathalie built throughout her lifetime does not lead to a sense of breakdown but rather liberates her step by step. After overcoming the initial shock, Nathalie begins to chart a new course for her life, spending more time with her students and embarking on a new adventure by staying with her former student Fabien and his friends in an anarchist commune in the mountains. Nathalie’s days spent in the commune, where she discovers that she was active in opposition movements in her youth, lead to meetings with intellectuals from a different generation and discussions about the familiar conflict between theory and practice. Nathalie views the political and intellectual aspirations of her youth, which now seem far behind, with an almost scientific curiosity. On the other hand, this meeting also highlights the reality of her no longer being young, leading to a subtle sense of insecurity in her emotional relationship with Fabien. However, in her tears while lying in bed in the unfamiliar room on the upper floor of the house, there is not only a reminder of her aging but also the effect of the uncertain excitement brought about by her forced freedom. Like her cat Pandora, who inherited her name and ran away into the depths of the forest, Nathalie also finds herself wandering in a world where she feels somewhat foreign. While she smells the scent of death on one hand, she tries to savor the taste of the freedom she has inadvertently gained on the other.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s Unique Touch

The screenplay of “L’avenir” may seem like an ordinary French film, with its character-driven narrative, emotional turmoil, dramatic events, and plenty of dialogue. However, Mia Hansen-Løve manages to give a unique touch to this seemingly ordinary story through her approach to the protagonist. Events such as loss, separation, and professional disappointment, which could be dramatic peaks in their own right, become simple truths of life and ordinary milestones of growth thanks to the director’s cool-headedness towards Nathalie.

Nathalie Chazeaux looking away from the camera.

Like Nathalie, who embraces everything life brings her way and cannot stay still for a moment, the film conveys the feeling of life moving forward at its own pace, without dwelling too long on shocking events, relying on dramatic music, or trying to capture emotional moments. Mia Hansen-Løve shows great care in cutting out scenes that might become overly indulgent. The film maintains a tempo that fits well with Nathalie’s openness to new experiences, as she rushes around, catching trains and buses at the last minute, and the camera follows her restless energy.

Isabelle Huppert’s performance as Nathalie deserves a special mention. The seasoned actress, who has portrayed many sharp and edgy characters in recent years, embodies a soft and gentle heroine in Nathalie, delivering a nuanced performance with a touch of humor here and there. “L’avenir” is a powerful and delicate film that carries a strong sense of life.

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Last modified: May 10, 2023