I won't ever forget the first time I saw a film directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. I like to go to the movies alone, and at a sparsely attended weekday afternoon showing of her third feature, Goodbye First Love, I succumbed, completely, to the tender, painfully nuanced portrait of a teenage girl grappling with her first heartbreak and subsequent quest to carve out some semblance of defined personhood. Afterward, as I walked from the theater into the subway and back to my apartment, I couldn't stop chewing over the movie from all angles: how lush it was, how uncloyingly sincere it was, how carnal, how lucid. (That I was also desperately trying to rid myself of a grim patch of romantic malaise endeared me further.)
Since then, Mia has released two more films: Eden, a kinetic epic about twenty years in the life of a French house DJ floundering through the scene that gave rise to Daft Punk, inspired by her brother, Sven; and this month's Things to Come, which nabbed her, deservedly, the Best Director prize at the 2016 Berlinale. Her protagonist, Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), is a high school philosophy teacher with grown children, settled into a state of security. And yet, when change arrives, it comes all at once: her seminal curriculum books are up for review, her mother takes ill and dies, and her husband suddenly leaves her for a younger woman. I've joked with my friends about Things to Come being a French Nancy Meyers movie, but that categorization is flippant and reductive. Mia's film is a highly refined excavation of a woman examining her life's work and evolving ideologies, all while negotiating the possibilities of one entity she doesn't know quite what to do with: freedom.
The day before this interview, we made a plan to chat via Skype. Due to my poor connection, I saw just one smiling image of Mia at her home in Paris, all sharp cheekbones and gently mussed hair, before the inevitable "Can you hear me? Can you see me?" back and forth led us to the phone. Mia gamely answered my questions, talking at length about her writing process, the allure of daily life, and the difficulties of reconstructing memory.
Colleen Kelsey: How did working with biography, or autobiography, help you create fiction through cinema?
Mia Hansen-Løve: It has always been like that for me. As soon as I started writing films, I wrote films that were partly biographical. Most of them are not about my own life directly, [except] Goodbye First Love, [in which] her past has to do with my own, but in my four other films, it's not about my own story. There are re-creations of stories that are partly inspired by things I've experienced, seen, and observed. It's really subjective, but real life is always in the very heart of my inspiration. It's about trying to re-create the memory, but in that quest for memory, there is a part of faithfulness, and a part of betrayal, too, because you always betray the past re-creating it.
CK: For the elements of reality that you do borrow, whether it's from your brother's life in Eden, or your mother, who was a loose model for Nathalie in Things to Come, is there ever a level of intrusion or sensitivity from the people who you source these stories from?
MH-L: Maybe it's a question you should ask them. You can't, obviously, but it's a difficult question for me to answer, because I don't know if I feel legitimate enough to say whether or not the people around me could be affected by the way I write and the things I write about. All I can say is when you talk about my brother, my mother, or friends, it's always people who I love. I think it's very determinant for me to say that I would never make a film against people or about people who I don't feel connected to. I hope that people who may have inspired characters in my films understand that. I'm lucky enough that it's people who have also a sense of creation and how difficult it is, the fact that you don't really choose about what you write, and you just do what you can.