Michael Haneke’s latest, The Time of the Wolf, is neither funny game nor daunting debasement ritual, and as such this heavily inward-pointing evocation of primeval doom-and-gloom in the French countryside may have a difficult time appealing to fans of the director’s previous polemics. The film begins promisingly enough when a family arrives at their weekend home and discovers a petrified man and woman hiding inside. A shot rings out, and after an impromptu burial, Anna (Isabelle Huppert) and her two children take to the road, where an unaddressed catastrophe (disease, war, famine—it doesn’t really matter in the end) has compromised the French landscape and eats away at the country’s social order. Haneke’s use of Scope is outstanding, and the film’s first quarter is frighteningly Medieval. Via a series of startlingly composed long shots, he tests the will (and love) of a grieving mother and daughter with only the eternal darkness of a dying world. When the distraught Anna arrives at a train station, she encounters a small community of refugees desperately waiting for a train that may never come and promises to take them to locations unknown. Haneke’s austere images depict terrified citizens of the world clinging to the feckless logic of the modern world even as the film’s unspecified darkness pummels them into a lawless vortex. Because Haneke’s images are so profoundly evocative of his moral and philosophical preoccupations, Time of the Wolf comes to a screeching halt whenever the characters actively voice the director’s big themes. Things get a little too specific after several references are made to a group of 36 leaders called the Justs, but this Vonnegut-like mythology allows Haneke to tackle the importance of spirituality to a civilization on the brink of collapse. If Haneke wants us to think of that caveman who first learned to master fire, he’s succeeded. Where there is light there is life. It’s a mantra that truly resonates to the very last frame of the film.
- Palm Pictures
- 110 min
- Michael Haneke
- Michael Haneke
- Isabelle Huppert, Béatrice Dalle, Patrice Chéreau, Rona Hartner, Maurice Bénichou, Olivier Gourmet, Brigitte Roüan, Lucas Biscombe, Hakim Taleb
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