Huppert's stunning work in Mia Hansen-Love's existential drama “Things to Come” rarely rises above a whisper. But like a window, she lets us peer directly into the soul of a woman confronting everyone's two worst enemies: time and change.

Good things come to those who wait. And after more than 100 films, Isabelle Huppert is finally reaping the rewards with two acclaimed movies in Paul Verhoeven’s rape thriller “Elle” and her equally stunning work in Mia Hansen-Love’s existential drama “Things to Come.” That both are in theaters at the same time – and competing to see which will earn the timeless 63-year-old beauty her first Academy Award nod – may prove a dilemma for Oscar voters but it’s an embarrassment of riches for those of us starving for something more than men in spandex tights.

Her two films couldn’t be more different, but Huppert is the light shining from within both, although one could argue “Things” is the quieter, more demanding creation. As Parisian high school philosophy teacher Nathalie Chazeaux, Huppert is consistently projecting from the inside out with a performance that rarely rises above a whisper. But like a window, she lets us peer directly into the soul of a woman confronting everyone’s two worst enemies: time and change.

She notices it most in her depressed, hypochondriac mother, Yvette (the great Edith Scob), an aging ex-model whose youthful beauty is evidenced in the collection of portraits Denis Lenoir’s camera slowly pans across inside the apartment Mom shares with her flabby cat, Pandora. In Yvette, Nathalie foresees her own mortality, as her mother flirts closer with death. She’s also stoking the fading embers of her life as a noted academic, her acclaimed textbook being subjected to revisions by her profit-motivated publisher. It’s “too austere,” a pompous millennial wonk tells her. It needs to be more “user friendly.” To that end, she’s shown a batch of splashy cover proposals she rightly says look like an advertisement for M&Ms. “Horrible beyond belief,” she adds in her usual fashion of not mincing words.

Then there are the students, many of them filling the streets of Paris protesting the French government as if it’s 1968 all over again. Some are even blocking the entrance to her school, which she finds exasperating.

And that’s not the worst of it. Her husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), also a philosophy teacher, is about to spring an even more disheartening surprise. How much betrayal and loss can one woman sustain? Quite a lot if you’re Nathalie, and Huppert is sensational at communicating both the frustration and the fight in a woman who never allows herself to dissolve into self-pity. She’s an ace at dusting herself off and getting back into the game, willing to explore new horizons without looking back. She even finds it humorous when she spies her husband’s mistress from her seat on a bus, clearly amused by the irony.

Then, that’s the way Hansen-Love’s mind operates, locating the bittersweet essence of everyday setbacks we encounter traversing the minefield of life. It’s a common theme in her movies, and one Huppert embraces fully by making Nathalie a woman as vulnerable as she is emboldened. She can absorb smack as easily as she can dish it out, and that’s what makes her so endearing, as Hansen-Love immerses you in a story that asks big questions about faith, truth and what it is that allows us to go on when life takes a sharp, unexpected turn. She freely dips into the philosopher well in which the names of Rousseau, Pascal and Adorno are casually dropped. Even the old sage Woody Guthrie pops in on the car radio for an impromptu sing-along.

Typical of Hansen-Love’s perceptive script is a timely sequence that has Nathalie leading a class discussion on how some people don’t consider facts to be truth, like global warming, and how others perceive truth as unreliant on facts, as a soon-to-be White House occupant believes. And what about movies, books and plays? Is there truth in art? Hansen-Love certainly thinks there is, but her script also offers provocative questions that directly counter that assumption. It’s an interesting debate, but all that matters is that there is truth in Huppert’s evocative portrayal of what it’s like to excel at being a wife, daughter, mother and mentor, and then have the rug suddenly pulled out from under you.

The movie moves slowly and deliberately, allowing you to absorb and reflect on Hansen-Love’s perceptive observations on how life’s tragedies aren’t just to be mourned, but used as a tool for self-examination. And what’s great about Nathalie is that even though everything around her is evolving much too rapidly, she always stays true to herself and her beliefs. For her, it’s all about persistence, a word Huppert knows all too well. And like Nathalie, her best days are just ahead.
THINGS TO COME (PG-13 for language and brief drug use.) Cast includes Isabelle Huppert, Andre Marcon, Roman Kolinka and Edith Scob. (In French with English subtitles.) Grade: A-