There’s a vast chasm between (post) apocalyptic literature and films like the Left Behind series and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (see March 29th post) and Michael Haneke’s Le Temps du Loup (Time of the Wolf). A fan of ambiguity and untidy endings, I obviously prefer the latter to the former. I just finished watching Haneke’s Time of the Wolf, which is just as mysterious and intense as his more popular, recent film Cache. As I watched it, I recalled some of the scenes from McCarthy’s The Road…high praise indeed.
Time of the Wolf takes place in a post-apocalyptic, European anywhere. Haneke offers few geographical clues in which to locate his barren countryside. The characters mostly speak French or other European dialects, but of course that reveals little. The main characters simply refer to being “from the city.” These three, Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and her children Eva and Ben, flee their country home after an intruder murders their husband/father. They set out into a dark, barren countryside in search of supplies or anyone willing to take them in. They receive little, begrudging help and are mostly victims of harsh inhospitality. They encounter a young boy who wanders alone, and he joins them as they arrive at a train station populated by fellow refugees. Here, they confront a gamut of responses to the tragedy from the spiritual to the nihilistic, with Olivier Gourmet providing another brilliantly understated performance as Koslowski, the opportunistic “leader” of the group.
Haneke exchanges plot for mood in Time of the Wolf. He cares not for an explanation of the tragedy. The grayness that envelops the countryside could be fog, smoke, nuclear fallout, or a combination of the three. Characters refer to rationed food, electricity, and diesel, contaminated water, and poisoned/infected animals. Haneke thankfully ignores the cause, focusing instead on the effect this sudden event has on the lives of his characters. In doing so, he also chooses to remain a passive observer of the variety of responses his characters embody, refusing to pass judgment on even Koslowski’s most despicable behavior.
Like The Road, Time of the Wolf has several unsettling moments, although none of Haneke’s scenes approach the brutality of most of McCarthy’s novel. However, both McCarthy and Haneke capture despair with seemingly great ease and reveal just how tenuous even the strongest relationships and social constructs can be in the face of such disaster. Despite the grim mood, Haneke, like McCarthy, is also able to eke out some glimmer of hope in this tragic situation, yet even this is ambiguous at best.
Time of the Wolf is available on DVD, and I even found it on my cable provider’s On-Demand movie channel for free.