Palm Pictures // 2003 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 18th, 2005
Anna: "Strangers in our house...they killed Georges. We had to bury him.
They took our car and supplies."
Neighbor: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for you."
Anna: "It's your duty to help us!"
Neighbor: "You know what the situation is, or are you just playing dumb...Take your children and leave here."
This French post-apocalyptic drama is neither creative or impressive enough to be considered required viewing, but it does a good job of studying human nature after a horrible tragedy. The transfer, cinematography and performances make it worth checking out for people who enjoy Lord of the Flies and dark European art films.
Anna (Isabelle Huppert, I Heart Huckabees) and her family arrive at their summer home after some apocalyptic disaster, only to find another family of drifters, who murder her husband and take all of their supplies. She and her two children try to find shelter with friends, but when no-one will open their doors to the family, she is forced to take shelter with a ragtag group living in a railway station led by a fierce opportunist named Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet, The Son). This precarious situation is only made worse when a much larger group arrives.
In western society, the last fifty years have been full of threats that could completely destroy our society. After World War II, we lived under the fear of a nuclear holocaust that could destroy the world. Starting later, that fear changed into a fear of terrorist attacks. The fear of a worldwide AIDS epidemic has also surfaced. We aren't sure what the end result of our environmental irresponsibility could be, and our uses of chemicals in industry and genetic modification of food could be causing permanent damage to us and future generations. Time of the Wolf doesn't speculate which one of these disasters will be the first to threaten Western civilization. All we know is that people and animals are sick and dying, and there is no longer any power. There has clearly been some kind of disaster, but we never learn what caused it. This is a wise choice, because it shifts the attention of the audience away from this fear and towards questions of human nature and society.
As expected, this exploration is not a cheerful one. The murder of Anna's husband is so sudden and vicious that we realize that we have entered a world where anything can happen at any time. This fear lasts for the rest of the film, with each exchange between characters bringing with it the possibility of sudden and explosive violence. Director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) makes excellent use of sound and silence to never allow us to settle into a comfortable pattern. The characters are dragged from tragedy to tragedy, with only a faint remaining hope in human nature and civilization keeping them together. Of course, these are the times when any signs of civilization quickly start to break down and human nature comes to the foreground. Some of the characters are self-sacrificing and kind, while others are selfish to the point of being dangerous.
The performances are all low-key, but perfect given the context of the film. Isabelle Huppert runs through the full gamut of human emotions, barely holding herself together as she tries to find a life for her children. The best performance comes from Anais Demoustier as Eva, Anna's daughter. She refuses to give up on the young thief that they encounter, and responds believably to all of the insanity around her. Eventually, we begin to see this situation through her eyes, and realize that she can often see things more clearly than the adults around her.
Although Time of the Wolf could hardly end on a happy note, I was surprised by a somewhat optimistic and hopeful ending. It's not a "the cavalry is here" hopeful ending, but there is at least the possibility for future happiness. I'm glad that Haneke chose this ending, because it's not positive enough to nullify the suffering and pain of the characters, but it's not nihilistic either. We are reminded that people in parts of the world are put through these sorts of ordeals all of the time, and that we always seem to prevail and carry on.
I have no complaints at all when it comes to the disc itself. The video transfer is excellent, even during the many scenes that are nearly pitch black. Even with the darkness, details are clear and the colors seem accurate. There are no visible print flaws, and few compression errors. The sound is also solid, with clear dialogue and accurately mixed music. There is almost no surround usage at all in the 5.1 track, but it's hardly noticed. Some more ambient noise would have made the film even more immersing, but so much of the film is intentionally silent anyway.
There are not many extras on the disc, but the few that are have a bit of value. There is an interview with Isabelle Huppert (in English), which discusses her feelings about the film. She has worked with Haneke several times in the past, and it's clear that the two of them understand each other very well. There is also an interview with Haneke, which exposes his own mission in creating Time of the Wolf. These are both short interviews, but they deliver the important information quickly. The disc also houses a production featurette, which is really just a few minutes of unsubtitled footage from during the filming of one of the scenes.
If I have any complaint about Time of the Wolf, it's that it has almost nothing new to bring to the table. I think by this point we all understand that human civilization only holds on by a thread, and as soon as we are sent to a deserted island or face a war or horrible natural disaster, we quickly revert to something more savage and rough. This film is nearly excruciating to watch at times, and although I think it has a great deal of value, I wish that it had something a bit more novel to say if it was going to put me through all of that as I watched it. Parts of the beginning felt quite similar to the hopeless exploration in 28 Days Later, and the arrival of the larger group was reminiscent at times of Dawn of the Dead (if not quite as violent).
Even though it doesn't do anything new, Time of the Wolf is a timely and harrowing look at how quickly our society could go from lavish comfort to desperate survival. It's accompanied by a beautiful transfer, and is well worth checking out for fans of foreign cinema who are patient and don't mind the lack of a cheery resolution. A rental will probably suffice for most, as I can hardly imagine anyone wanting to watch it often.
Despite a few weaknesses, Time of the Wolf is free to continue wandering in hopes of finding a safe place to stay.
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Featurette