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TIME OF THE WOLF (Le Temps du Loup) (director/writer: Michael Haneke; cinematographer: Jürgen Jürges; editors: Nadine Muse/Monika Willi; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Anne Laurent), Maurice Benichou (Mr. Azoulay), Lucas Biscombe (Ben Laurent), Patrice Chéreau (Lise Brandt), Anaïs Demoustier (Eva Laurent), Hakim Taleb (Young Runaway), Olivier Gourmet (Koslowski), Daniel Duval (Georges Laurent), Brigitte Roüan (Béa); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Margaret Menegoz/Veit Heiduschka; Arthouse Films and Palm Pictures; 2003-France/Austria/Germany-in French with English subtitles)
“Couldn’t be more boring and less entertaining, though it certainly was masterfully photographed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I’ve seen all this end of the world stuff before in movies, and done with more excitement. Austrian (he makes movies in French) filmmaker Michael Haneke’s (“The Seventh Continent”/”Code Unknown”/”Funny Games”/”The Piano Player”) dreary, pessimistic postapocalyptic film couldn’t be more boring and less entertaining, though it certainly was masterfully photographed and uncompromising in the digs it takes on humanity. Also, to his credit, Haneke employs no trick gimmicks as he usually does. The serious filmmaker creates an austere work of art that is pure and presents a particularly powerful vision about the “have-nots” who constantly live under catastrophic conditions, as depicted in the film, while the “haves” for the most part have never been tested by facing such desperate times. The ultimate crisis reveals that the threads of civilization are clearly eroding away in the face of individual needs and points out with dispassionate alarm the lengths some will go to look out for themselves without caring about others. The appeal of such an uncompromising visionary tale, without the need to tell a fulfilling story or offer any explanations, becomes a matter of taste.

A bourgeois family of four arrives from an unnamed city to their country retreat and they are met by a family of intruders. When homeowner Georges tries to calm down the squatter pointing a rifle at him, he’s answered with a fatal gunshot. His wife Anne (Isabelle Huppert) is allowed to go free with her young son Ben and adolescent daughter Eva, but are equipped to deal with the chilly climate and barren landscape with only a bicycle, a lighter, cigarettes, some jewelry, one warm coat and their pet parakeet. It soon becomes apparent, though no explanation is ever given, that we are in some kind of unnamed global ecological catastrophe. Mother when refused help by her neighbors, remains unemotional as she takes her young ones into the French countryside looking for help, food, water, shelter, and kindness. What she finds is an uncivilized teenager (Hakim Taleb) looking to board a train to some illusory place of escape, who leads them to an abandoned railway depot where they remain with a makeshift community of fellow survivors while he lives as a scavenger in the woods waiting to board a train that never stops at the station.

The community is ruled with an iron-hand by the self-appointed robber baron named Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet), who asks for expedient objects and sexual favors in exchange for protection, food and water he manages to get from local villagers. There are some personal incidents to keep the story moving along (for example: a rape and a fight over intolerant slurs). Everyone seems to be in a state of shock, as social order is breaking down and trying to remain decent remains a chore. Securing drinking water becomes a top priority, as is keeping up hope. Many of the grim scenes are hardly visible, as they are shot in near-total darkness.

One marvelous scene is shot with minimal dialogue and in the dark has the no-nonsense Huppert anxiously searching for one of her children at night, while the other is left keeping a fire going – which ends up a tiny dot of light topping off an otherwise empty screen. It, probably, encapsulates the artist’s uncompromising vision of the beginnings of civilization (back to those caveman days)–offering a sobering commentary that translates the filmmaker’s doom-and-gloom meaning into the dim hope that love can possibly emerge from the ashes of civilization–but don’t count on that.

There’s no doubt that Haneke’s filmmaking ability deserves to be praised, though the film itself is too old hat in theme to be fresh.

REVIEWED ON 12/30/2004 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”