Time of the Wolf (December 11/05)
There's one thing you can never accuse Michael Haneke of, and that's playing it safe. With movies like Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, Haneke seems to delight in tormenting the audience and pushing the envelope as far as it'll go. Time of the Wolf is certainly no exception to that.
Set in France, the movie presents an alternate version of our reality where all expected societal constraints have broken down (in true Haneke form, we never find out what happened). A family of four is heading to their cabin in the country (one of the only pieces of information we do receive is that it's somehow safer away from larger cities), where - almost immediately upon arriving - the patriarch is killed by squatters. His wife (Isabelle Huppert) and two children head off into the wilderness with few supplies, hoping to find a safe place to stay.
There's a lot to admire about Time of the Wolf - Haneke does a brilliant job in setting up the situation visually - but the problem is much of the film is incredibly dull and banal. Characters sit around having these typically European discussions about morality and compassion, but their words have little meaning since we have absolutely no idea what's going on. We're never given any kind of context in which their intellectual arguments make sense, so it's almost like listening to one half of a phone conversation.
But more than that, how are we to sympathize with these characters if we have no idea what they're going through? Haneke peppers the story with a few interesting ideas (including two men that travel by horse selling water by the bottle), but they're short lived and we're right back to squabbling.
What it really comes down to is the fact that Time of the Wolf is neither interesting nor entertaining. It's never a good thing when the most memorable aspect of a movie is the opening credits, and that's certainly the case here (against a black background and in complete silence, the credits flash on screen in a tiny font; it's stark and ominous, and sets up the movie perfectly. Unfortunately, it's the most effective aspect of the film).