Time of the Wolf

Lucas Biscombe and Isabelle Huppert in Time of the Wolf

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

11 August

 

Mesoamerican long count calendar, 3114BC

On this day in 3114BC, the world was created. Or it was if you are using the MesoAmerican, or Mayan, long form calendar, which takes 11 August 3114BC as the day the universe sprang into life.

The calendar uses a modified base 20 scheme to tally its days, modified so that the second to last digit rolls over to zero when it reaches 18 (so this second to last digit is in base 18).

The calendar is notable for using a zero to indicate a place with nothing in it (so 0.0.0.0.1 is the first day, 0.0.0.1.0 is the 18th day), a very early use of the concept of zero.

The world we live in was due to end on 21 December 2012, the last day of a 5,126 year cycle, according to various millennialists. This obviously never happened.

 

 

 

Time of the Wolf (2003, dir: Michael Haneke)

Roland Emmerich’s 2012 seems the obvious place to start with any film relating to the end of the world. But how about a far less obvious choice, by Michael Haneke, known for his unflinching portraits of voyeuristic violence (Funny Games), moral culpability (Hidden) and physical decay (Amour).

Time of the Wolf is Haneke’s version of a post-apocalyptic world and it is about as pitiless as you can get. It also, unusually for a film of the time (it’s common now) doesn’t tell us there has been any gigantic calamity, merely leaves us to work it out for ourselves. Which we gradually do after processing the data Haneke presents us with: a French-speaking family trying to retreat to a cabin in the woods, we assume for a weekend away. Except when they get there they find the cabin is already occupied.

At this point we might expect a bit of shouting, exchanges ending in “I’m going to call the police”. Instead the squatters hold the family at gunpoint, steal their food and car, and then, most likely accidentally, kill the father.

The mother (Isabelle Huppert) is left with the kids, no supplies and no vehicle, and we’re left with the distinct feeling, as in Funny Games, of bewilderment, that a film about a family on holiday for the weekend now seems to have become a film about a mindless murder of a father.

And so begins part two of Time of the Wolf, as Huppert and her two children wander through a rural landscape that looks pretty much as we’d expect it to look in modern-day France.

Except there seems to be no law and order and neighbours are taking arms against each other. Or so we are told in one ugly scene after another. The woman and her brood eventually find a small colony where people have banded together for mutual assistance. But its leader is a brute and the quid pro quo for his protection is that everyone do unquestioningly what he says.

This, Haneke is suggesting, is what life without civilisation looks like, and it’s a bleak vision. Unusually for someone of his generation – Haneke was born in the 1940s and came of age in the 1960s – there is no time in his philosophy for romantic notions of the noble savage, the perfect human beings we might all be if only “the man” would butt out of our lives. Instead, like Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Haneke is reminding us of what we have, what we have achieved and how easy it would be to lose it all.

There aren’t any jokes, there isn’t any comic relief and at times you wish there might be a Roland Emmerich big bang or soppy moment where someone gets an old CD player to work and they dance to an old tune, or something, anything. No such luck.

And shooting it all in slatey greys and blues, dead greens, in darkness and mist, Haneke and cinematographer Jürgen Jürges seem to be going for the atmosphere of Ragnarök – the apocalypse of Norse legend, according to which a mythical wolf swallows the sun and the moon, causing the twilight of the gods.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A grim apocalyptic drama
  • The always watchable Isabelle Huppert
  • Jürgen Jürges’s almost monochrome cinematography
  • Its powerful, and bizarrely hopeful, message

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Time of the Wolf – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Hidden aka Caché

 

 

Everyone loves a form/content double whammy, when a film’s story and its method of telling correspond. It’s why Memento succeeds so well, for example, a tale about an amnesiac told in partial and unreliable flashback. How much craftier is Michael Haneke’s psychological thriller Hidden. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) are media professionals, members of the Parisian chattering classes, liberal right down in their DNA. What could people of such good intent have to do with the rising tide of Islamism, anti-westernism, terrorism? Why are they being blackmailed by an increasingly incriminating series of videotapes? Are they guilty of something, or innocent, as the film seems to proclaim? Haneke’s double whammy is to tell this story both from the point of view of the spooked couple and through the replaying of the videotapes they’ve been sent. Indeed we’re often not sure which point of view we’re seeing events from – is it the dispassionate camera telling us the story from Georges and Anne’s point of view, or is it the politicised camera within the film, the one shooting the videotapes? And it’s on this nub that this brilliant film turns. You could see it as a comment on fictionalised reality, though it is only tangentially that. Or as a more political film which, through Haneke’s dislocating device, dissolves the certainties of fiction and invites the question – are we, Western audiences, no matter how liberal, anti-war, pro-diversity, because we benefit from them, complicit in political actions taken in our name?

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Hidden – at Amazon