A couple and their two young children arrive at their country cabin to begin their vacation, only to find it occupied by a desperate man with a gun and his frightened wife. It’s quickly apparent that this is something other than a normal break-in or robbery. The man won’t leave and he won’t say why he’s there. When the husband tries to reason with him, he’s shot and killed by the seemingly deranged intruder. The woman and her children flee for help. Wandering the countryside, they discover some sort of catastrophe has taken place, a kind of ecological upheaval that has left untainted food and water scarce.
Time of the Wolf is a film by Michael Haneke, an Austrian writer/director who makes his films in French. Anyone familiar with his work will know that this particular disaster movie will focus on the people, rather than the disaster, and the people aren’t going to come out looking good. Sure enough, as soon as the dead man’s wife (played by veteran French actress Isabelle Huppert, a frequent Haneke collaborator) settles into an abandoned train station with her children and some other lost souls, it becomes a question of how far one will go in order to survive, and how brutal, protective or resigned one will become.
Haneke is constitutionally incapable of resisting artistic flourishes and Wolf is no exception. For starters, there’s no musical score and much of the film takes place in darkness. There’s an elliptical quality to the storytelling; the audience doesn’t know any more than the main characters, and the film is filled with suggestive sequences where the meaning is obscure but the emotion rings clear.
Case in point: An old woman dies, off camera, while working in the woods, and there’s much howling and grieving before it’s clear what has happened. We then watch her funeral, shown entirely at the knee-level of the attendees, who slowly walk away, leaving us to stare at nothing but the abandoned place of burial.
Though glum, Haneke’s post-apocalypse tale isn’t as dark as one might expect from this particular director. It’s not as nihilistic as his Funny Games nor as grindingly sordid as his The Piano Teacher. In fact, the ending is decidedly upbeat. That is, as upbeat as one can be when in hell.
In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday and Saturday, Sept. 3-4, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Sept. 5, at 4 and 7 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
E-mail Richard C. Walls at [email protected].