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Time of the Wolf, The 
Written by: on May 8th, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: France/ Austria / Germany, 2003
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Béatrice Dalle, Patrice Chéreau, Rona Hartner, Maurice Bénichou, Olivier Gourmet, Brigitte Roüan, Lucas Biscombe
DVD released: May 24th 2004
Approximate running time: 113 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo/ 5.1
DVD Release: Artificial Eye
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99

The Laurent family head for the country to their holiday home only to find that another family has taken it and they kill Georges and take the car and possessions. Left to fend for themselves, Anne must look after Eva and Ben and the locals refuse to help. Holed up in a barn, Ben goes missing and the barn burns down. They meet a young thief who takes them to an abandoned train station where other people are waiting to stop any passing train so they can escape what is ravaging the country. Trading their possessions for basics like water and avoiding the suspicion of their fellow refugees the Laurents try to survive the horrors around them.

The Time of the Wolf is a symbolic tale of a modern civilised family forced to battle for survival in a world where everyone else is doing the same. The Laurent family are well to do but their serenity is destroyed when others lay claim to their security, and the social constraints that protect them are dismantled. This happens through first the death of the father, the loss of home and then of their car. Forced to ask for help, to beg for food and to rely on each other, the Laurents depend on getting away from the apocalypse around them.

Time of the Wolf is about shocking western complacency, stripping away the things that keep us safe and forcing us to look the horror of survival in the face. People murder, steal, rape and lie simply to get by and the Laurent’s bourgeois values prevent them from doing it as well. The Laurents yearn to be protected, cared for and to get justice but none of these things are possible. They are merely lost in the fog of war.

Haneke shocks the audience with real deaths of animals, rape at knife point in a dormitory and the sheer understandability of these mad acts. Children die because there isn’t enough to trade for water, others cut their own throats and Ben believes the only way out is to sacrifice himself to the cleansing fire. This final image is breathtaking and characteristically open-ended for Haneke.

The first 45 minutes are far better than the inconclusive second half which feels like it runs out of steam. The opening set-up of the Laurents’ plight and their lonely flight is brilliantly done and has a nightmare quality that the second more politically based half of the film would have benefited more from rather than the gritty verite it uses. Undeniably, this is a singular vision and like Hidden this film has a very deliberate subtext of ethnic cleansing, refugees and the trouble in the Balkans. Such films are terrifically important when the comfortable western world is so keen to forget the troubles obscured by it’s routine.

Time of the Wolf is an important film, but it lacks the coherence of Hidden becoming episodic and the lack of ability to connect to the characters becomes tiring. This seems to be a point of the film, Eva wants to feel close to the boy thief but can’t because of his survivalist actions and writes to her dead father. I feel that Time of the Wolf is rather over-thought and could have done with a simpler narrative. This said, it is original and should be watched.

The DVD:

The Artificial eye disc has an anamorphic  transfer which is occasionally soft. The quality of the print is good if not excellent and the sound is presented in 5.1 or stereo. The sound is good with the atmospheric sounds of night and darkness done well. The English subtitles are excellent.

The film comes with two featurettes and it is interesting to listen to Huppert and Haneke discuss the film. Huppert describes Haneke as a mix of Hitchcock and Bresson creating tension through image rather than story. There is a trailer also.

Not the great film that Hidden is, but Time of the Wolf is worth seeing and this is a good way to do that.

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