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Palm Pictures presents
Time of the Wolf (Temp du loup) (2003)

Eva: Don't go. I'm scared, Mom.
Anne: I'm scared, too.

- Anaïs Demoustier, Isabelle Huppert

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: December 27, 2004

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Anaïs Demoustier, Lucas Biscombe, Hakim Taleb
Other Stars: Olivier Gourmet, Maurice Bénichou, Béatrice Dalle, Marilyne Even, Patrice Chéreau, Brigitte Roüan, Daniel Duval, Florence Loiret-Caille
Director: Michael Haneke

Manufacturer: Blink Digital
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and sexuality/nudity
Run Time: 01h:48m:17s
Release Date: December 14, 2004
UPC: 660200308728
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When it comes to the "end of the world" genre, the director of today generally is required to load up heavily on elaborate special effects money shots to sell the moment. That's what the end of the world generally means, and a film like The Day After Tomorrow—which as popcorn-munching, visual eye-candy is undeniably fun stuff—would probably not have the strength to hold audience interest if it didn't have all of those amazing scenes of cataclysmic tornadoes, floods and snow.

On the other end of the spectrum for this genre are the films that pass on effects shots in favor of genuine storytelling, taking on the human angle amidst some global tragedy. Much like On The Beach or Testament, writer/director Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf tackles the chaotic aftermath without the need to rely on playing up the cause. By five minutes in it has become uncomfortably clear that something terrible has occurred, but Haneke actually goes full tilt in the other direction by never actually explaining what has happened.

Instead, Haneke forces us to follow the journey of survival for Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) and her children—Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) and Benny (Lucas Biscombe)—who, in the aftermath of whatever tragic event has happened, quickly find themselves having to wander the desolate countryside on foot. It is presumably France, though again Haneke never reveals the locale, and like the event itself, it is actually secondary to the interaction between characters during a time of great danger and social disorder.

Eventually, Anne, Eva, and Benny, as well a nameless young boy (Hakim Taleb) they encounter along the way, make it to a remote train depot, populated by a small band of survivors led by the somewhat dictatorial Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet). The presence of a structured plot is notably absent here, and it is primarly about nothing more than the basics of human survival, endurance and sacrifice.

The depot is where Haneke burrows in for the long haul, taking the onus of plot off of the survival story of Huppert's Anne, and opening it up to take on the group dynamic. The normally radiant Huppert has her natural luster downplayed here, looking appropriately disheveled and fragile, but even in the film's frequently lengthy dialogue-free sequences she exhibits a maternal strength that speaks volumes. Huppert is understandably given top billing, but this is an ensemble piece, and it is Anaïs Demoustier, who plays the 13-year-old daughter Eva, who steals this one with a performance that reveals a remarkable kind of maturity seldom seen in young actors.

As a director, Haneke probably had his broadest success with The Piano Teacher (also starring Huppert), but he is really best known for his distinctively intentional and deliberate (some might call it plodding), almost mechanical, visual style, which is especially evident in his 1997 release, Funny Games, easily one of the darkest and most unsettling films I can recall. He returns to the same directorial style sheet with Time of the Wolf, and he just loves to let the camera linger longer than it should on scenes you don't necessarily want to see. The amount of tension generated by these moments, such as the burial of a dead child or the slaughter of a horse, is unnerving and uncomfortable, and Haneke seems to live for these long, slow shots.

It's not that Haneke is an acquired taste, but more mainstream film fans (those who like a neat beginning, middle and end) would be best advised to probably look elsewhere. They will, however, be missing a powerful experience, and though Time of the Wolf is hardly conventional filmmaking, full of intentionally discordant, uneven, and ambiguous moments, it is riveting. Even a pseudo-religious undercurrent, involving sacrificial immolation takes backseat to the predominate theme of chaos, control, social disorder, and human survival.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Much like the story itself, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is bleak and often quite murky. But that appears to be completely by design, and even though Haneke's film is often frustratingly dark, the transfer does what it can to make the image tolerably acceptable. Colors are mostly dull, save for the green grass, and sequences like Huppert's Anne and her family walking along fog-shrouded grey country roads looks beautiful, with no evidence of hazy grain.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented with a pair of French language tracks, in either 5.1 Dolby Digital surround or 2.0 stereo. The 5.1 track has a bit more spatial depth, and though it is almost entirely a front-centric mix, there is more evident directional imaging here. The only time the rear channels kicked in was during a thunderstorm sequence, about midway through the film, and the sudden effect actually made me jump in my seat.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Springtime in a Small Town, Last Life the Universe, Reconstruction
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Extras consist of Interview with Isabelle Huppert (04m:09s), Interview with Michael Haneke (03m:45s), and Behind the Scenes footage (07m:17s). Huppert, speaking in English, briefly discusses her personal interpretation of Time of the Wolf, and gives high praise to Haneke's directing style. The brief Haneke segment, in French with English subtitles, has the director commenting how the success of The Piano Teacher led to the financing for this film, and unlike Huppert, intentionally avoids interpretation of this film to eliminate establishing preconceived thoughts in the minds of viewers. He properly gushes about Huppert, and if he hadn't I would have had to slap him about the head until he did so. The behind-the-scenes bit is narration-free, and is just a collection of miscellaneous scene setups showing Haneke coaching the actors along and watching dailies.

The disc is cut into 18 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

For what it's worth, this one just missed making my Top Ten for 2004 by a whisker, but I suppose all you really need to know is that Time of the Wolf is another maddeningly intense mental exercise from writer/director Michael Haneke. It's a perfect case of "less is more," where Haneke's minimalist story leaves many larger questions unanswered—a point that will no doubt infuriate many viewers—but, at the same time, weaves a somewhat moralistic fairy tale about the stripping away of order and social law.

Highly recommended.


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