“I don’t need to ‘tell’ the story…The story is being told from itself by following the different moments in different locations.” — Mia Hansen-Løve

One of my favorite contemporary film-makers is Mia Hansen-Løve. Hansen-Løve is interested in people, in how people listen, how they walk (very important to her), the locations where they live, the conversations they have about philosophy, film, politics. She is interested in rhythm, in questions, in the in-between. Many critics (and regular people, but I’m mainly talking about critics) only look for answers. I’m so bored by “looking for correct answers”, and by writing like this: “This film is good because it reflects how I see the world.” “This film is bad because it displays the wrong attitudes.” “This film is bad because it doesn’t include what I personally think it should include.” “This film is bad because it doesn’t state outright what it is about. What’s all this GREY AREA business??” and etc. I don’t just dislike this attitude: I deeply distrust it, since it comes out of adherence to ideology (whatever the ideology is is irrelevant, the result is the same). I distrust people who see every single situation through the lens of a single ideology. This kind of thing has done untold damage in world history!

But I digress.

Mia Hansen-Løve

Hansen-Løve is the child of two philosophy professors (Things to Come is clearly somewhat autobiographical, or at the very least familiar ground), and she herself has her Master’s in German philosophy. Early on (and she’s still quite young), she got her start as an actress, through Olivier Assayas putting her in a couple of his films. There was obviously a kindred-spirit thing between them and they eventually became romantically involved. They were together for years, have a daughter together, and I believe they have split up, although I don’t really follow all of that. What is interesting here is to consider the way Assayas’ films and Hansen-Løve’s films “talk” to each other, the influence Assayas had on her, but also the other way around.

Olivier Assays and Mia Hansen-Løve

She made a couple of short films in the mid-2000s before graduating to features. Her first feature film was made when she was only 25 years old. As a whole, her films can be seen as part of a continuum of her interests, style, and sensibility. She arrived this way, in other words. Hers is not a commercial sensibility – which makes it even more gratifying that her films have gained worldwide accolades. Hope for the future!

My introduction to her was through her second film, The Father of My Children (2009). (Her first film, All Is Forgiven, was not released here theatrically until last year.) The Father of My Children is a psychological study of a film producer playing many roles in his life. He hustles, he gets things done, he’s a loving father to three daughters, he lives in one of those French country houses exuding family, ritual, relaxation, beauty, respite. But this man is in trouble. Hansen-Løve was 27 when she made this, but she shows an uncanny understanding of life at different stages, and an ability to imagine herself into the shoes of another.

Father of My Children (2009)

The guy is in deep shit, financially, because of his involvement with a film directed by an erratic difficult “auteur” (shades of Lars von Trier), and his problems snowball. He tries to hide it from his family, his wife. It’s a complex subject, but Hansen-Løve isn’t interested in plot so much, as she is in how life impacts people, how they react, what they do in response. She is very disciplined in her focus. (Her films require excellent actors, who can exist in in-between spaces, while still never being general or vague.)

2011’s Goodbye First Love is a film I truly love. It so accurately captures the overwhelming feeling of first love, the agony and the ecstasy. Hansen-Løve does not work in clear-cut binaries. The guy in the film is sincere in his love, but equally sincere about his future plans, which will take him away from his teenage love. It’s devastating.

Goodbye First Love (2011)

I mean, the title isn’t Hello First Love. It’s about the crucible of experience of falling in love when you’re a hormonal teenager, and love is do-or-die, your whole world is love and first sex and passion. And torment when you realize it’s your FIRST love, not your FOREVER love.

The first film of Hansen-Løve’s I was assigned to review was 2015’s Eden. Eden blew me away: here’s my review. Although there are lead characters, what the film is ABOUT is the French house-music scene, its development, its culture. The “scene” is the lead character.

Eden (2015)

This may sound like a cliche but her films don’t ride on plot, they’re about life itself: primarily, the passing of time. There is the healing of old wounds, the creation of new wounds, the everyday, the conversations had over the dinner table, at a pub, the in-between moments of beauty or boredom. Her films sometimes take place over a long period of time – Eden is the most radical example, which takes place over a 20-year period. Important to note, because it’s a distinguishing characteristic of her films: she doesn’t care about old-age makeup, or somehow “signifying” the passage of time. The same actors play the same characters when they’re young and old, with no visible change in appearance, and you’re just supposed to buy that they’re older now. You do buy it. All the focus on creating “believable” aging seems unimportant when you watch Hansen-Løve’s films. Eden is very long, and might be off-putting to regular audiences because of that, but it’s worth it. It may be her most personal. Submit to its rhythm. Stop waiting for a plot. Stop waiting for Hansen-Løve to state herself clearly, letting you know what is “the point”. Her films don’t work like that.

Eden (2015)

Finally, came 2016’s Things to Come, starring the great Isabelle Huppert as a philosophy professor whose marriage breaks up after many years, launching her into a new world. Stating the story like that may make you think you know what the film is going to be. But it’s not that at all! Again, plenty of stuff happens, but the real meat of it lies in the smaller moments, the conversations, arguments about politics, a cross-generational relationship (not strictly romantic, but not un-romantic either), the moments of silence and repose where thoughts can swirl around. Thinking can change things as much as action.

Things to Come (2016)

This was the film where Hansen-Løve was criticized for not being feminist enough (whatever that means: the film stars Isabelle Huppert as an independent free-thinking intellectual woman who finds her own way in life, after her marriage disintegrates. So … that’s pretty feminist, oui?) With all of the philosophers name-checked in the film, certain critics worry-warted/scolded: why no mention of Simone de Beauvoir? People were truly upset. Hansen-Løve has addressed these criticisms in interviews with courageous clarity. She thought the whole thing was all a bit silly, and wasn’t interested in people who watched her films in such a surface-y way. Here’s my review of Things to Come.

Things to Come (2016)

Two years after Things to Come, on many critics’ Top 10 of the year, came Maya, a film about a war journalist, told with a refreshingly gentle approach. Her films are often about intense subjects, but her approach is almost tender, giving her characters room to be whoever they are, and who they are may change depending on the circumstances.

Maya (2018)

Last year came Bergman Island, which I waited for with impatient anticipation.Bergman Island stars Tim Roth and Vicki Krieps (from Phantom Thread) as filmmakers heading to Fårö island (known as “Ingmar Bergman’s island” – although he didn’t own the place), for a writing retreat, where they stay in Bergman’s house, complete with windmill.

Bergman Island (2021)

There are simmering uneasy undercurrents in the relationship: Roth’s character is more successful than the younger Krieps – indeed, he is celebrated, and gives a lecture on Bergman during their stay – and she feels somewhat blocked, in the shadow of her boyfriend, not to mention the great and omnipresent INGMAR. (Is this reflective of Hansen-Løve’s own feelings during her relationship with the older and more successful Olivier Assayas? It all feels very personal and well-observed.) At one point, she asks her boyfriend if he would listen to the plot of her screenplay, so she can get feedback. (Uh-oh. Do you really want that?) It is then, halfway through Bergman Island, that everything changes. Indeed the whole structure of the film changes. New characters show up. And to say more would be to ruin the delight of the experience (I went into it cold, purposefully avoiding the festival buzz until I had seen it myself).

2021 saw the long-delayed international release of her very first film, 2007’s All is Forgiven, directed when Hansen-Løve was just 25 years old.

All Is Forgiven (2007)

It never got a theatrical release here in America. It had long been un-seeable to American audiences. The first film of hers to make it over here was Father of my Children. So again, I was so excited, and even more so when I got the assignment to review it for Ebert. It’s amazing to see how fully-formed Hansen-Løve was, even at 25. It’s like Orson Welles. Or Chantal Akerman. Artists who needed no gestation period. They hit the floor running. Here is my review of All Is Forgiven.

If it were easy to make films like Hansen-Løve’s, more people would do it.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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6 Responses to “I don’t need to ‘tell’ the story…The story is being told from itself by following the different moments in different locations.” — Mia Hansen-Løve

  1. mutecypher says:

    I watched Things to Come and Bergman Island over the last two nights. I really like when you do these “you should check this person out” posts. I thought the films were very respectful of the audience, trusting that we would have the patience to essentially follow the characters around and get to know them.

    They were all so beautifully shot. There was a scene in Things to Come where the camera panned in such a steady, leisurely way from an exterior wall to Isabelle H. in a window. For some reason it made me think of a shot in Godard’s Sympathy for The Devil where there were mirrors set up in the studio as the Stones were rehearsing and you could see the camera on a tripod with a motor rotating it back and forth as it captured the Stones at their various instruments. Do you know if he is much of an influence on her? Maybe just a random association on my part. I’m sure cinematographers can do as steady a pan as a machine.

    It is puzzling that someone could view that film and come away thinking anything other than that IH’s character was made of iron (not titanium). Not feminist enough? By what metric? Perhaps because she was realistically resilient?

    I very much enjoyed the relationship between Vicki Krieps and Tim Roth. And as you mentioned, the way the structure changes half way through. I did love the local bride groom’s grumpy comments about Bergman. I’m thinking I want to rewatch Persona again soon.

    I will probably take a break from her movies for a bit, but I’m thinking of watching Eden first when I pick it up again. Thanks for emphasizing her, I’m glad I’ve watched these movies.

    • sheila says:

      Hey! Oh I’m so glad you checked her out! So cool. Love to hear your thoughts – I think those two films were a good place to start. Eden is daunting – because of the length – Greta Gerwig is in it but she shows up at like an hour and a half in – lol -It maybe sounds pretentious the way I wrote about it – and if you don’t care about the whole nightclub-rave culture of the 90s it might be a tough slog – I participated in that world so so much of it to me was familiar – it’s very very 90s – but it’s very lively! The main guy has relationships, he has things he wants to do, etc., parents, there is definitely a journey – but the real motion of the film is the house-music in France and the culture it created – and how these different characters move through it over a 20 year period. Absolutely love it.

      And I think Godard has an influence on everyone, lol. He’s just that kind of director – particularly if you are FRENCH. People are imitating the imitators now.

      // I did love the local bride groom’s grumpy comments about Bergman. //

      ha! I know. The whole relationship to Bergman that the islanders had was so interesting and diverse. I loved the guy she met when she blew off the official tour.

      and it’s interesting how … the film Krieps is in the process of writing … is CLEARLY a “Mia Hansen-Love film” – just in how she describes it … and her older boyfriend has a different way of doing things … just as Assayas does – and I love Assayas, but it was so interesting to see this young filmmaker attempt to do her own thing – AND her “idea” – as we see it unfold – is basically the director’s own style as a director emerging. It was so meta. Thought Roth was great.

      // I thought the films were very respectful of the audience //

      absolutely. This is real grown-up stuff too. You really have to be okay with not being “presented with” anything. She just doesn’t work like that. Father of my Children is pretty plot-heavy but it’s really about the energy this man lives in, and what happens when things spiral out of control. and again, he’s a film producer – a powerful one – so there’s got to be some personal aspect of it, too, for Mia Hansen-Love – not sure if it was based on anyone she knew, but it comes from a very real place.

      I loved the cat in Things to Come!!

      // Not feminist enough? By what metric? //

      By the metric of people who bitch and moan all the time. Seriously it was so irritating. Here is this famous independent WOMAN director – whose films are EVENTS – in a way some men only dream – and people are bitching that Isabelle Huppert doesn’t name-check WOMEN philosophers. It was unbelievably stupid and I’m sorry it even came on my radar it was so boring. Hansen-Love wasn’t thrown at all, she didn’t apologize, she didn’t concede – there are interviews where she’s asked about it, and her answers were always firm. Her films are too ambiguous and in-between to please the idealogues who want there to be a clear point, and Hansen-Love rightly ignores those people. I wish I could!

      It’s cool because she is still so young (ish) – and she doesn’t seem to take a decade in between films (like Jane Campion has done) – she’s more active than that, so I’m excited to see whatever else it is that she does.

      Thanks so much for leaving this comment – always love hearing what you have to say.

      • mutecypher says:

        / I loved the guy she met when she blew off the official tour./ Wasn’t he great? “My girlfriend and I saw your movie. We were the only ones in the theater…. And then we broke up.” An echo of the Bergman housekeeper’s comment that Scenes From A Marriage caused a million divorces. Krieps’ character Chris was already Bergmanesque! There were a lot of funny moments like that. I also enjoyed her “I’d like to have nine children by five different men” line as a contrast to Ingmar!

        /CLEARLY a “Mia Hansen-Love film”/
        /the director’s own style as a director emerging/

        And it was a teaching moment for how to understand her work. In a thoughtful, gentle way. “Amy feels this, Amy thinks that” narrated as you watch her and try to read the emotions across her face. I never felt lost with Chris, or with Nathalie in Things To Come, but I felt like things were set on “easy to understand” when Chris was describing Amy’s thoughts and feelings.

        Tony saying that he feels like he is on a precipice (I forget his wording – when he spoke after the Bergman showing) and so he has women as the focus of his films because they help center him (again, not precisely his words)…. I’ve only seen Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper (Persona Shopper?) from Olivier Assayas. Is that a reasonable thing for an Assayas-inspired character to say? Seems plausible from that small sample size.

        • sheila says:

          Interesting, yes – I think a connection can be made, since Assayas also loves Bergman. Speaking of Bergman, it’s one of his women muses’ birthdays today.

          Similar to Assayas becoming “obsessed” with Kristen Stewart – more like in awe of what happens when he puts the camera on her – Bergman was in awe of Harriet Andersson.

          This kind of obsession/awe is often framed as creepy but honestly it’s a wellspring of so much great art. Like … the Mona Lisa, perhaps? I don’t know.

  2. mutecypher says:

    Did you see Isabel Huppert’s comments about Mia Hansen-Love and Things to Come in her NYT interview? I was intrigued about the comment that MHL is very subtle and specific in her directions.


    • sheila says:

      Yes! she discussed this when she came to Ebertfest for the screening of ELLE. ELLE and THINGS TO COME came out back to back – it was wild.

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