Time of the Wolf (2003)

“For a director famous for his challenges to and provocations of his audience, this film, which of all Haneke’s work has received the most lukewarm if not negative critical response, is also the easiest for an audience to take — once you’ve looked past its forbidding apocalyptic scenario — for there’s a strong humanist premise underlying the film.”

‘Time of the Wolf’, directed by Michael Haneke in 2003, is a French, post-apocalyptic drama starring Isabelle Huppert as Anne, a mother of two, Eva,  played by Anaïs Demoustier and Ben, played by Lucas Biscombe, who live in a France ravaged by an undisclosed disaster. The family travel to their country home but find is occupied by hostile strangers. When tragedy strikes, the three are forced to wander the countryside and join with a group of survivors at a train station, all waiting for a train to return them to civilization. It’s a deeply symbolic and rich movie, but glacially paced and obscure. The conflict is all human based, this is a post-apocalypse in which humanity rather than monsters or disease is the cause of destruction. It’s hard not to see this as Haneke’s homage to Andrei Tarkovsky, there are touches of both ‘Mirror’ and ‘Solaris’ in the way the director depicts the beauty and isolation of the countryside and the brutality of man towards animals, but the most obvious comparison is with ‘Stalker’, as the family wander, seemingly without a planned destination. Like ‘Stalker’, there is a strong feeling of the mythic here, almost a touch of what would now be called ‘folk horror’ in the way the theme of sacrifice is unfurled throughout. In one powerful scene, a horse is savagely killed, a painful thing to watch, and Haneke cuts sharply to a scene of cathartic and torrential rain. It’s not an easy film to like: it’s slow, melancholic and elliptical, but the deep themes that underpin Haneke’s dour world make it worth persisting with.

Would I recommend it? Yes – but with reservations. Watch in a double bill with ‘Stalker’. If you can bear it.

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