Time of the Wolf

Director: Michael Haneke

France-Austria-Germany| 2003. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. 113 mins.

Thanks in part to Isabelle Huppert’s fearless performance, The Piano Teacher brought Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke’s career to a new level of international prominence, deserved recognition after a decade-plus of thought-provoking work, whether dissecting our relationship with screen violence in Funny Games or seeking a cinematic expression of our disintegrating society in Code Unknown. This latest film shows that recent success certainly hasn’t softened his line of attack, combining celluloid and social concerns in an austerely combative package which retools an apocalyptic sci-fi movie scenario into a bitter commentary on our privileged existence as first-world consumers.
It starts placidly enough, with a middle-class family arriving at their country holiday home, where the unexpected presence of an illicit interloper is merely the first hint that there’s something wrong, very wrong. Soon,concerned mother Isabelle Huppert is desperately scrounging for food as it becomes apparent that an unexplained catastrophe has brought the social and economic infrastructure to a total collapse. The prospect of a train ride away from this nightmare attracts all manner of human flotsam and jetsam to a remote railway station, where acute shortages of food and water create a new barter system that doesn’t exactly bring out the best in people.
Where and who would we be if the consumption stopped? That’s the sobering central conceit, but Haneke finds a way of making his own brand of steely cinema from it, denying the viewer the drip-feed of narrative information which usually shapes these doom-mongering movies just as the on-screen characters are denied home comforts we all take for granted. Get this straight and you’ll be in more of a position to appreciate what follows, as Haneke matches the storyline’s worsening privations by putting the audience through a figurative pain-barrier of deepening uncertainty. An impressively tough-minded statement from one of the key filmmakers of our time.

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