Saturday, May 2, 2009

Le temps du loup (2003)

Homework; spoilers ahead.

Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf, 2003) opens with a scene that could have been from Funny Games (1997). A bourgeois family arrives at their weekend home only to find that it is already being inhabited. The conflict that ensues is shot in Haneke’s signature cold, unattached style. The two families confront each other in the house, but keep their distance from each other. This sequence is presented using the shot reverse shot technique, but in every frame, the physical distance between the families is visible. This suggests that the two families are completely disconnected from each other. Even though the homeowners present a peaceful option, the patriarchal squatter kills Georges Laurent (Daniel Duvall) without explicit cause. With this, Haneke demonstrates just how little one can trust other people, especially during post-apocalyptic times.

The film seems to be split into two parts: when the family is on their own and after they discover “civilization.” At first, it seems as if the only way for the family to survive is to convene with other people who were also displaced by whatever apocalyptic event occurred. Once they come across a group of people living out of a train station, it initially seems as if their situation may improve. However, the mise-en-scène suggests otherwise. Just as in the first scene, the two parties sit on opposite sides of the room. In addition to this, the room is cluttered, with boxes, a stove, and other items separating them. While this visually represents a disconnect between the characters, it still allows for a semblance of order. When the other characters, including Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet), return, the mise-en-scène loses all semblance of structure and order. It is ironic that the more people there are, the more chaotic the society seems.

In contrast to the civilization is the young boy (Hakim Taleb) who rejects the rules of the larger community of people. He is content to live both physically and morally outside of the society and steals water, a goat, and other supplies from them. He seems to have no morals; he does not care if his stealing will harm another individual and he even goes as far as to kill the stolen goat so he is not found out. In living amorally and in disjunction with the larger society, the boy at first seems to be better off for it. As the film progresses, however, there are tiny glimpses of hope for the larger community. Supplies, food, and other necessities are obviously very scarce, but that does not stop some from sharing what they do have.

In one touching moment in the film, a man uses the precious battery power of his radio in order to glean knowledge for the good of the group. While he is listening to the radio, a heated argument takes place; individuals act less than civilized. Only when it is brought to their attention that he is sacrificing something for the good of the group does the argument cease. The only way a civilization can survive is if its members make sacrifices for the good of the group. Ben (Lucas Biscombe) was even willing to make the ultimate sacrifice by jumping into a fire. As stated by the man that saved him from jumping, the fact that he was willing to kill himself is in itself enough. This is also demonstrated in the film as the viewer sees the last shot: an optimistic point of view shot from someone riding on a train, presumably to safety.

Haneke takes a genre, in this case post-apocalyptic drama, and presents it differently from mainstream cinema. This film is a wonderfully bleak work of art and is worth watching even just for the cinematography. With that said, The Time of the Wolf has much more value than that; the film exposes issues within "civilized" society.

Grade: B

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