In Theaters Now

Having it made is something we all crave, right? The prospects of all of our material, vocational and emotional needs being met probably has tremendous appeal for most of us. But what happens when what we thought we wanted becomes a trap that keeps us from exploring other meaningful options? We may come to feel stifled, restricted and unfulfilled. But what do we do about it? Those are the questions raised in the thought-provoking new French melodrama, “Things to Come” (“L’avenir”) (web site, trailer).

By all rights, Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) would appear to be living a great life. She’s been happily married to her husband, Heinz (André Marcon), for many years, and she’s the proud mother of two grown children, Chloé (Sarah Le Picard) and Johann (Solal Forte). She’s also built a successful career as a respected philosophy teacher and author of several highly regarded textbooks. And, with residences in Paris and Brittany, she’s surrounded by culture, beauty and all the joys that come with living in modern-day France.

So, with a life like that, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, plenty.

Seemingly out of the blue, Nathalie’s life begins falling apart. First, she learns that her publisher has hired several brash new book marketing specialists (Yves Heck, Rachel Arditi) who are eager to implement a number of changes to new editions of her long-established titles. Nathalie views their proposed alterations – changes that are designed purely to boost sales – as tacky and pandering. And that’s just the beginning of her publishing woes.

But the problems don’t stop there. Nathalie’s aging mother, Yvette (Edith Scob), a former model who’s prone to panic attacks and depression and has been teetering on the edge of dementia for some time, grows increasingly needy, challenging her daughter’s ability to realistically care for her. Nathalie routinely receives frantic overnight phone calls from her and is frequently left to deal with warnings from irritated EMTs, who grow increasingly frustrated at having to respond to Yvette’s repeated false alarms. The time may have come for Yvette to move into a senior facility, a proposal that she’s always railed against whenever it’s been suggested, claiming she’s fully capable of independent living, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

And then there’s Heinz, who is forced into admitting that he’s having an affair. Chloé learns of the clandestine relationship and subsequently confronts her father about it, insisting that he make a choice between her mother and the other woman – and that he do it soon. He begrudgingly agrees to his daughter’s wishes and shortly thereafter informs Nathalie that he’s preparing to move out, despite his claims that he still loves her.

With her world collapsing, Nathalie’s left with her head spinning, rhetorically asking herself, “Now what?” All of the pillars that have supported her have now come crashing down around her, leaving her without a clue or sense of direction. And, as a philosophy teacher, someone who’s supposed to have meaningful answers for dilemmas like this at her fingertips, she’s adrift in a fog, not sure what to do or which way to turn.

The sense of predictability that Nathalie has long enjoyed evaporates before her eyes. The elements of her life that she thought she could count on to give it direction, meaning and continuity disappear one by one. Even the time-honored philosophical disciplines that she teaches – concepts that she has consistently believed she could rely upon to guide her – suddenly seem murky, inadequate and less assuring. Needless to say, for someone accustomed to such a sense of certainty, these new circumstances are disorienting at best, deeply troubling at worst.

However, as unexpected as these developments are, Nathalie soon discovers new influences coming into her life. For instance, she begins spending time with one of her former students, Fabien (Roman Kolinka). She enjoys the company of her young colleague and is pleased to see that he’s become a sort of protégé, working on profound philosophical writings of his own. At the same time, though, Fabien also defies some of Nathalie’s expectations, such as announcing that he’s leaving the cosmopolitan sophistication of Paris to live on a farm he’s bought in rural France. He sees this as an opportunity to get away from the complexities of city life to clear his mind, to lead a simpler, slower-paced existence, and to spend more time writing.

As her life begins to change, newly divorced philosophy teacher Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert, left) increasingly enjoys the company of her former student and protégé, Fabien (Roman Kolinka, right), in director Mia Hansen-Løve’s inspiring new release, “Things to Come” (“L’avenir”). Photo by Ludovic Bergery, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

Although initially surprised at Fabien’s decision, Nathalie’s also intrigued by the prospects of someone of her scholarly stripe taking such a radical step. Before long, she’s so captivated with the idea that she decides to pay him a visit, a journey that gives her a chance to get away from it all and to enjoy the idyllic charms of country life. By doing so, she comes to realize – and to whole-heartedly acknowledge – that the recent changes in her life have actually been a blessing, allowing her to feel liberated and free from restrictions, arguably for the first time in her life. It’s a feeling that’s new to her, but it’s also one that she relishes with gusto, even in its intrinsic unfamiliarity. Indeed, if this new approach to life has enabled her to feel so much better so quickly, she can only imagine what it will permit if she allows herself to become immersed in it for the long term. And that’s what she’s about to discover.

Witnessing Nathalie’s transformation is truly heartening. Admittedly, the journey is somewhat intimidating for her at first, since it represents such new and uncharted territory. But, once she embraces the qualities this existence has to offer, she finds it refreshing and freeing. It affords her an opportunity to appreciate joys that she has either never known or denied herself. It also gives her a new perspective on the things that really matter in life. Her consuming focus on philosophy, for example, becomes somewhat less important. She comes to recognize that pondering life’s mysteries may be an interesting exercise, but, in the end, does it really provide the same degree of satisfaction that comes from beholding a mountain landscape, stroking the fur of a beloved pet or holding a baby in one’s arms? This truly becomes a significant lesson in learning what’s important in life, especially in terms of what gives it meaning.

Having personally gone through an experience like Nathalie’s, I can relate to her circumstances. At the beginning of the breakdown, things were indeed scary. But, over time, I came to recognize the new possibilities that were now available to me, all dependent on what I wanted to do with them. Feelings like that are truly exhilarating, if only we’ll allow ourselves to experience them. Getting past our fears and adopting an attitude of being willing to live heroically certainly help, but recognizing that the power to bring about exciting new creations rests with us is crucial if we’re to make the most of the opportunities. I’d like to think I did well with my choices, and it’s apparent that Nathalie looks forward to the adventures that await her. Anyone facing comparable conditions should take these examples to heart, and this film drives that point home with humor, heartfelt emotion and sparkling clarity.

“Things to Come” is a smartly written, exceedingly well-acted character study deserving of a wider audience than what it has garnered thus far. The film is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema, but it’s certainly worth searching for, especially for anyone facing circumstances similar to its lead character. With yet another outstanding performance by Isabelle Huppert (this is her year it seems), director Mia Hansen-Løve’s production provides much to ponder in terms of what we value and what we believe is important, especially when we embrace the freedom that personal liberation affords.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, sometimes it takes losing everything to discover what we want but don’t have. How easily we move through a process like that depends greatly on how we view developments as they unfold. If we realize that we’re responsible for manifesting everything that happens to us – including our perceived setbacks – then we have an opportunity to recognize that such changes are a means to get us somewhere new (and preferably better), psychologically cushioning their impact. That outlook in itself is quite liberating, but, when we apply it to the actual outcomes that occur, we give ourselves a chance to progress with greater ease and less stress – and with open arms to welcome the things to come.

A complete review of the film is available by clicking here.

A Poetic Look at Life

How do you view your reality? Do you see it as a collection of material commodities or as an aggregation of small, magnificent, often-underappreciated wonders? Do you take the time to appreciate the details of the elements that populate your existence, or do you gloss over them as insignificant irrelevancies? And what conclusions do you come away with from such assessments? Those are some of the thoughtful ponderings raised in the quietly meditative new independent release, “Paterson” (web site, trailer).

What can driving a bus teach someone about life? For an aspiring poet, more than you might think. Such is the experience of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver for the public transportation department of, ironically enough, the City of Paterson, New Jersey.

On the surface, driving a bus probably seems like a pretty mundane pursuit. But, for someone like Paterson, it affords him an opportunity to take in the panorama of life, which, interestingly enough, provides fodder for his thoughtful verse. In fact, all of life provides the poet with material for his writings. Be it the conversations he overhears on the bus, the everyday household items found in the home he shares with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), or the diverse interpersonal interactions he witnesses at the neighborhood tavern he visits while on his nightly walks with his pet bulldog, Marvin (Nellie the bulldog), Paterson finds word-worthy inspiration in virtually everything he sees and hears.

Bus-driving poet Paterson (Adam Driver) observes the beauty of the world around him to provide inspiration for his verse in the new independent release, “Paterson.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Media.

That, for the most part, sums up what this film is all about. There’s not a lot of action nor high drama here; rather, it’s more of a quiet meditation on taking in and drinking up what life has to offer. It’s intended to remind us that there’s a big beautiful world beyond the ends of our cell phones, that there’s much to be seen and experienced that isn’t composed of the flickering photons making up the fleeting images on our computer screens. Such beauty can be found in even the simplest things, whether it’s the cover of a box of matches or the frosting pattern atop a batch of homemade cupcakes. One need not be an artist to appreciate such innate splendor, either; it’s available for all of us to enjoy, whether for our own amusement or as material to be immortalized in our creative musings.

As the film also shows, we’re as much a part of that worldly beauty as all of the other elements that comprise it. That’s because we’re simultaneously both observers and creators of the reality that surrounds us, which faithfully reflects back to us the thoughts, beliefs and intents we maintain about our existence, the means by which the world around us arises. This is revealed in a number of ways in the film, too. It’s perhaps most visually apparent through the preponderance of identical twins that Paterson comes across during the course of his daily routine, imagery inspired by one of Laura’s dreams that she shares with him during one of their morning pillow talk sessions. But it’s also reflected in more subtle ways, such as through Paterson’s artistic inclination, continuing a long legacy of expression initiated by many of the talented residents of his hometown who went on to fame and fortune of their own, such as comedian Lou Costello, R&B duo Sam and Dave, writer Allen Ginsberg, boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and poet William Carlos Williams (the protagonist’s personal favorite), all of whom are referenced in the film.

Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a homemaker who brings her singular creative outlook to everything she does, makes life interesting for her husband, a bus-driving poet, in director Jim Jarmusch’s latest offering, “Paterson.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Media.

Numerous other philosophical ideas are woven into the narrative of “Paterson” as well, such as the Buddhist notion of the impermanence of all things. In a world where we have become so preoccupied with the illusion of preservation and unceasing continuity, this might come as quite a shocking disappointment, especially when the things we cherish suddenly vanish from our fields of perception. However, as creators of our existence, we’re all in a constant state of becoming, which means that our reality is continually being created, destroyed and re-created in its own personal way, including all of the elements that are a part of it.

Although initially seemingly lost and unfocused, “Paterson” is the kind of movie that grows on viewers as time passes, presenting a richly layered, deftly nuanced look at life, what’s in it and how we respond to it. While the pacing could stand to move along better in a few spots (especially in the first hour), and while some of the ironically protracted minimalist dialogue could have used some judicious trimming, director Jim Jarmusch’s latest nevertheless delights with its observations about existence through the medium of verse, which is inventively presented through an intriguing combination of voice-overs and on-screen graphics. The picture’s exquisite production design and colorful characters, be they human or canine, offer a whimsical look at reality, one that simultaneously amuses and inspires, beautifully punctuated by the film’s ethereal soundtrack. Just don’t expect a lot to happen in this one; rather, let it wash over you, and savor the simplicity that many of us have lost the ability to appreciate.

Nellie the Bulldog

Marvin (Nellie the bulldog) serves as a never-ending source of amusement for his master, an introspective bus-driving poet, in the quietly meditative new release, “Paterson.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Media.

It’s somewhat surprising that this release has not earned wider recognition in this year’s movie awards season. Nevertheless, it did receive honors at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palm Dog award for Nellie the bulldog, as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor.

In one of her more insightful observations, poet Muriel Rukeyser noted “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” As “Paterson” so eloquently demonstrates, that line might just as easily be rephrased to replace the word “stories” with “poetry.” And, thanks to the film’s protagonist and director, we’re able to gain a new appreciation of that sentiment, one that, if taken to heart and employed on a routine basis, can provide us with a whole new perspective on a wonder that, regrettably, we all too often take for granted.

A complete review of the film is available by clicking here.

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Captain Fantastic”

Getting away from the crush of the world’s worries undoubtedly holds tremendous appeal, particularly for those seeking to support and raise their families in a natural, healthy environment untainted by the corruption, perils and concerns of everyday life. But does this kind of retreat from mainstream society truly live up to the promise of paradise found? That’s the question examined in the family drama, “Captain Fantastic” (web site, trailer), now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) has rejected the evils of the outside world in favor of the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. He lives in the forest with his six kids (George McKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell), teaching them how to live off the land, how to practice sustainable self-sufficiency and how to lead exceedingly ethical lives. He home-schools (or is it forest-schools?) his children, educating them in a wide variety of subjects (often involving material far above what’s taught to their real world peers), and he rigorously trains them to maintain their physical health (leading them through routines comparable to those of Olympic athletes). Ben may be tough on his kids, but he positively adores them and sets a shining example for how to lead fulfilling, principled lives.

Such a lifestyle may be fine for those committed to staying in the woods, but, when a family tragedy forces Ben and the children to emerge from the forest, they soon find themselves out of their element. They don’t hesitate to fall back on their wilderness ways to get by, but it often leaves their real world counterparts aghast at some of the tactics they employ. The conditions of everyday life also reveal a serious knowledge gap when it comes to kids’ awareness of the ways of mainstream society, often making them feel out of touch and ill-equipped to cope. What is Ben to do now?

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen, right) leads several of his children (from left, Nicholas Hamilton, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, George McKay) through rigorous physical training in the woods in the unconventional family drama, “Captain Fantastic.” Photo by Erik Simkins, courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.

Striking a balance, it would seem, is the most logical (and beneficial) course to follow. Living ethical lives and being self-sufficient are one thing, but the ability to maneuver in the larger world of which the family is a part is just as important. Indeed, it’s all well and good to take the moral high road to living one’s life, but what happens when circumstances compel compromising those principles just to get by? Those are thorny considerations the Cash family must address once out of the wilderness, a potentially volatile prospect when dealing with extended family members (Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn).

This little-known unconventional drama addresses a host of poignant issues (some flattering, some critical) on both ends of the social and ideological spectra, raising valid points for consideration and debate (one can only hope that a currently polarized America will have the patience to take the time to listen to each side). With gorgeous cinematography, an engaging script, subtle humor and a number of genuinely moving moments, “Captain Fantastic” is well worth a look.

Writer-director Matt Ross has produced an enjoyable and inspiring offering, one that has earned its share of accolades. The picture captured the 2016 Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard Directing Prize, as well as a nomination for the Un Certain Regard Award. In addition, the film’s excellent cast earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for best ensemble. But the film’s biggest winner is Mortensen, who has received a best actor Oscar nomination, as well as comparable honors in the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild,  Critics Choice, BAFTA and Independent Spirit Award programs.

Finding a workable middle ground in a world full of contrasting opposites is a tremendous challenge these days, especially for those whose outlooks and lifestyles are as out of the mainstream as those of the Cash family. Seeking an amenable balance takes a concerted effort, particularly when it comes to weighing our convictions in light of the needs of everyday existence. Even the most ideological among us may struggle with this. But the right mix is out there somewhere. The paradise we hope to create is indeed attainable. The key, though, is never giving up on the search to find it.

A complete review of the film is available by clicking here. 

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.