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Michael Haneke’s doomsday vision is a little less bleak than expected

Illustration for article titled Michael Haneke’s doomsday vision is a little less bleak than expected

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In anticipation of the dystopian Aussie crime drama The Rover, check out these other post-apocalyptic visions.


Time Of The Wolf (2003)

“Michael Haneke envisions the end of the world” sounds less like an elevator pitch than a dire warning: Abandon all hope, ye who dare watch a post-apocalyptic drama from the director of Amour and The White Ribbon. And true to form, the Austrian provocateur pulls no punches, beginning his addition to the doomsday genre with an act of swift, brutal violence. When her husband is gunned down, Funny Games-style, by a squatter at the family vacation home, Anne (Isabelle Huppert) is forced to drag her two children across the French countryside, struggling to survive the aftermath of some devastating, presumably global calamity. The cause of civilization’s rapid decline remains undisclosed, with Haneke revealing only that the water supply has been contaminated. In some respects, the movie plays like an anticipatory adaptation of The Road; scenes of the family huddling for warmth in abandoned farmhouses and traversing a foggy, ashen landscape are closer in spirit to Cormac McCarthy’s novel than the actual film it inspired.

Visually speaking, Time Of The Wolf is Haneke’s darkest movie, featuring numerous nighttime sequences in which the actors are illuminated only by the flicker of flames. (Fire, dancing from burning buildings and in the smoldering carcasses of scorched cattle, becomes a symbol of both destruction and salvation.) Eventually, Anne and her children reach a train depot that’s been transformed into a kind of refugee camp, the survivors waiting—possibly in vain, though the ending encourages multiple interpretations—for the arrival of a train that could transport them to proverbially greener pastures. At this microcosm for polite society, where the worst of impulses can be indulged, Haneke presents the apocalypse as a litmus test that many of his characters fail. Yet for all its bleak insights into human nature and the mercenary bottom-line of capitalism, Time Of The Wolf is not without its stray traces of tenderness. Songs are shared. Funeral rites are upheld. Campfires become communal bonding spaces, as they have been for eons. In a Haneke movie, chase whatever glimmer of hope there is.

Availability: Time Of The Wolf is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix.