Time of the Wolf (2003)

It doesn’t quite bring you to any substantive destination, but Haneke’s attempt at the dystopian apocalyptic drama tries to find compassion when there is absolutely none.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #1,556

Dir. Michael Haneke
2003 | Austria/France | Drama | 113 mins | 2.35:1 | French & Romanian
NC16 (passed clean) for some violence, language and sexuality/nudity

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Anaïs Demoustier, Beatrice Dalle
Plot: Fleeing a disaster, a middle-class family travel to their countryside holiday home, believing themselves to be escaping the consequences of the general state of chaos, but they find it occupied by strangers.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes) 

Source: Les Films du Losange

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Society, Chaos, Human Nature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Alliance Francaise – Retrospective
First Published: 10 Apr 2018
Spoilers: No

Of his post-2000s works, Time of the Wolf could be Michael Haneke’s weakest, at least from the lukewarm reception it got when it premiered at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.  Some critics have even judged it to be a failure, particularly Peter Matthews of ‘Sight and Sound’ in a scathing review.  

The passing of time has, however, rendered it more kindly—for one of the most overlooked films in Haneke’s oeuvre, it is enjoying some kind of renaissance, perhaps as a result of seeing it as instructive of the auteur’s overall style and themes at the midpoint of his career, one that would continue to reach new heights, culminating in two consecutive Cannes Palme d’Ors for The White Ribbon (2009) and Amour (2012).

Starring Isabelle Huppert as Anne Laurent, a mother of two kids, Time of the Wolf puts them in an apocalyptic (or is it post-apocalyptic?) environment where they, like numerous other families and individuals, must survive. 

Haneke doesn’t tell us where they are, how they got there, what happened, and what could happen next—he doesn’t need to.  All he does is to paint an abysmal picture of hopelessness.  

“I’ll kill you one day.”
“Soon, I hope.”

Very remarkably, he uses light and darkness to create an ominous mood, such is an early sequence where the trio seeks refuge in a large barn for the chilly night, with only a matchstick as a source of light.  This is one of the film’s most breathtaking sequences. 

In other scenes, Haneke employs rain and fog in a series of extreme wide shots to create different tonal qualities in the visuals.  One could even draw some artistic parallels with the work of Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan, especially 2011’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Slow-moving, but not necessarily uninvolving, Time of the Wolf may be treated with Haneke’s customary austere, dispassionate style, yet it finds surprising compassion through its characters when there is absolutely none to expect. 

An unadulterated form of humanity comes through, one that is not motivated by any materialist—or even survivalist—agenda, shining a spotlight on us as a whole species.  

Time of the Wolf may not bring you to any substantive destination, but its very plotting, meandering as it is, seems to deal intuitively with class and racial divide, if only as a pretence for a cinematic experiment in social deconstruction.

Grade: B+


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