Isabelle Huppert plays Nathalie, a philosophy teacher with a yearning to inspire. In turn, her favourite ex-pupil, and now recognised author (Roman Kolinka) inspires her, perhaps serving as a sore reminder of the anarchic lifestyle she had to give up for her family. This becomes a prominent, bitter spill to swallow when she discovers that her husband Heinz (André Marcon) has been cheating on her. Couple that with her mother’s illness and the lack of stability to her job, she is daunted by the prospect of having to reinvent herself and start again – yet feels somewhat reinvigorated, too.
Though a pseudo-intellectual, Nathalie remains immensely relatable, for she’s such a well-rounded creation, crafted in such a human way, where we embrace her flaws and imperfections, and naivety about certain things. It helps matters hugely that Huppert is such an enigmatic, sincere and staggeringly naturalistic performer. The cameras can just linger on her for lengthy periods of time and we always feel like there’s more to learn, and take in – no matter how mundane a task she may be undertaking. She just has this presence that makes for an absorbing, empathetic protagonist, which is an integral element in this candid drama working.
But this is a collaborative effort, as while it takes an actress with her credentials and distinctive subtlety to bring the story the life, it takes a substantial, compelling screenplay to provide her with that platform, and Hansen Love must be commended in that regard. Particularly so, given we never once veer into the realm of the melodrama, never victimising the lead or evoking any sense of pity for her – in spite of what he has to go through.
So while Eden was about youthful exuberance, this is about middle-aged melancholy, and given both productions are so confidently put together and manage to absorb and beguile the viewer in such different ways, it just shows that no matter what characters Hansen Love may put in front of us, thanks to her talent as a filmmaker we’re always able to invest in their cause, and revel in what are simply fine pieces of cinema.