As official selection way back in Cannes 2003, Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003) was loved and loathed in equal measure. Both sides have a point – director Michael Haneke had not been so aggressive since the nightmarish but hysterical Funny Games (1997). A disquieting tale of a nameless apocalypse that has reduced Europe to third-world poverty, and the capacity for cruelty revealed in the survivors, Le Temps… is not easy viewing.
But the depth of characterization, coupled with Haneke’s willingness to show that people are capable of good as well as evil in extreme circumstances, makes it impossible to dismiss the film as exploitation.
Things fall apart very quickly – a family arrives at their holiday country cottage, only to have a gun held on them by a wild-eyed man, Fred (Pierre Berriau). Despite attempts to defuse the situation (which are, in fact, early indicators that all is definitely not right in the world), the husband is shot dead – whether by accident or intentionally is never made clear. The perpetrator allows the shell-shocked widow Anna (Isabelle Huppert) and her two children Ben (Lucas Biscombe) and Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) to leave – and they are quickly at the mercy of an increasingly hostile environment. With food and clean water scarce, no electricity and money worthless, the outlook is grim.
Huppert excels in a role that combines the steely determination needed to protect her children as best she can with sincere altruistic overtones, as Anna battles to prevent herself from degenerating to the level of an animal. Solid support is also provided from the child stars, who deliver very mature performances. Refreshing also to see the recently under-used Betty Blue icon, Béatrice Dalle, in a role worthy of her talents, as a forthright, painfully honest member of the makeshift commune to which the wandering family becomes attached.
The concept of society’s threads unravelling is powerful, and, with only one or two unfortunate lapses into grand guignol, the otherwise slow-burn pacing and sense of gathering doom make for an uncomfortable but illuminating journey into darkness.
113 mins. In French.