Mia Hansen-Løve faced critics who refused to accept her as a director to become a key figure in modern French cinemaSABINE MAIERHOFER

In conversation with Film Comment in 2011, French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve said that, “I write all films by myself. I really try to close a door and go inside myself to search for my own truth. It would be a limitation to stick to those cineastes that I look up to. What I admire in them is precisely their sense of independence, how they created their own language and how they plunged into themselves to make their own films.”

Despite her evident predilection for introspection and introversion, in summarising the career trajectory of the French filmmaker, critics like to remind us that she was an actress before she was a director. They like even more to imply that this means that she must have been an actress first and foremost, despite Hansen-Løve often correcting them in interviews. The subconscious belief that women are primarily objects of the gaze is one commonly propagated in traditional critical circles.

"Hansen-Løve’s script is as poetically elliptical as her camera"

Though Hansen-Løve’s acting career amounted to nothing more than two small roles in Olivier Assayas’s films Late August, Early September and Sentimental Destinies, critics rarely – and perhaps unsurprisingly – devote as much attention to her subsequent stint as a film critic for Cahiers Du Cinema.

What makes these assumptions so ironic is that Hansen-Løve’s cinematic output could not be further from the theatrical if she tried. After making her first short film, Après mûre reflexion (2004), she honed her craft making short after short, before graduating to features with her debut All is Forgiven (2007) and soon after The Father of My Children (2009), which was based on the life of a film producer she knew. From the offset, it was clear that Hansen-Løve was gradually building a cinematic universe that was sensually original, ever nearing the achievements of these auteurs she admires who “created their own language.”

Her 2014 film "Eden" explored the tensions between music and silence with deftnessCG CINEMA

It might be said that her films are similar in tone and pace to those of another understated French auteur, Eric Rohmer, for whom Hansen-Løve has often expressed admiration. However, her unusual way of subtly depicting the stillness of characters in the midst of a world in violent motion is almost unparalleled. Even in 2014’s Eden, a film based on her brother’s DJ career which marked a departure for Hansen-Løve, one gets the sense that it is not the movement or even the music that fascinates her, but the moments of quiet just after the rave, when everything is silent and suddenly ambiguous.

Having commenced her career with two films about tortured men, the two films of Hansen-Løve’s career that most define her sensibility are 2011’s Goodbye First Love and 2016’s Things to Come. This is not to say that these films define her oeuvre by the fact of their featuring female protagonists, but that they embody a certain quietude and consideration that distinguishes her from her contemporaries. Goodbye First Love is a coming of age story told through the lens of its protagonist, Camille’s (Lola Creton) “first love.”

What is so unusual about her telling of this story, is that though love is the dominant theme, it is not a story about a girl whose coming of age is occasioned by the men that pursue her, but a delicate meditation on what happens when someone uses love as the building blocks with which to construct their life, and someone pulls out the foundations. Hansen-Løve’s script is as poetically elliptical as her camera, which here moves and watches with Camille – she is just as much the agent of the film’s perspective as she is its object. This agency is mirrored in Camille’s own trajectory from confused student to talented architect, designing and restoring buildings as she restores and builds her new life.

Trailer for "Things to Come"YOUTUBE

Fast-forward five years and Hansen-Løve’s protagonist has aged forty years. Now she’s Nathalie, a philosophy teacher whose husband of twenty-five years has just left her for another woman, and she is played by Isabelle Huppert. 2016’s Things To Come is another film by Hansen-Løve that plays with autobiography. Following Eden which was based on her brother, Things To Come takes inspiration from her own parents who were also both philosophy teachers. Perhaps no other filmmaker has ever devoted so much time to a woman reading onscreen. Huppert’s Nathalie reads on the metro, she reads on the rocks when she goes swimming in the mountains, she reads from Pascal’s Pensées at her mother’s funeral.


Mountain View

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In Things To Come, Hansen Løve does something incredibly rare and important in validating and giving artistic justice to the life of the intellectual, the intellectual woman in particular. Her nuances and complexities are particularly well captured in a scene in which Nathalie has just told her favourite ex-student that her husband has left her, she says, “I’m lucky to be fulfilled intellectually – that’s reason enough to be happy.” In an interview Huppert stated that she thought that this statement was at once true and untrue, and this question of how emotion and academia coexist is expertly observed throughout the film.

Hansen Løve’s films are not bombastic or provocative - they are not going to incite protest or ignite a political movement, but this is why they are so crucial. Even more shocking to the cinematic establishment than film by a woman is a film by a woman that is not a digestible statement about the plight of womanhood. It might be that Hansen-Løve’s understated films are a protest, however personal