This is obviously my year for working my way through Haneke’s films, and this one, like the others I’ve so far seen, refuses to take an easy path. There is a colossal number of texts, in film or in literature, which are about the breakdown of society after something like an armaggedon. Just off the top of my head there are novels like Lord of the Flies (Golding), Level 7 (Roshwald), Memoirs of a Survivor (Lessing – who also included one in the shape of The Four-Gated City at the end of her Children of Violence sequence), Riddley Walker (Hoban), and any number of films from adaptations of the above through The War Game (Watkins) to blockbuster ones like The Day After Tomorrow.
What distinguishes Le temps du loup from all these others, whether they were made to entertain or to inform, is that it is not in any way bothered with explaining the backstory. Whatever the something is that has happened, we are given no information about it. In fact, we are put in the position of the family at the heart of the film, a man, his wife, and two children (the wife is the incomparable Isabelle Huppert), who arrive at the start of the film at their holiday home. They find there are squatters there. At some point, the husband is (I think) asked something like ‘Do you really not know what is going on?’ The children are ushered outside by their parents; and then the husband is shot – Haneke does not show the shooting, nor the body. It’s one of the characteristic signs of intelligence of his film-making. It is disturbing to know, but it is not used as a visual shocker. This is not an ostentatiously violent film.
After this, the three survivors, and a young boy whom they encounter, are left to their own devices. The follow a railway line to a halt, where they encounter others. As the film proceeds, more people gravitate to this halt, in the hope that a train may turn up, and that it may be stopped, although the plan has nothing else to it. And nor, essentially, does the film. Having pushed us through the door into an unspecified aftermath, it lets us inspect the results. There is no moralising at all. There are few characters who are anything other than on the road to absolute vacancy. Almost all the emotional transactions are null and void. We just watch everything fall apart in front of us, at a desultory speed.
You might think that this makes the film hardly worth watching. But in its images of the vacuum into which the people are gradually being dragged, Haneke, as ever, forces the viewer to consider and even to concede that, when you rub the lustre from humanity, there is not much left to go on. Unlike Haneke’s other films, this one is understated, and cunningly indecisive. And as for Huppert: the more I see of her work, the more I am amazed. She is a director’s dream.