A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Mesoamerican long count calendar, 3114BC
On this day in 3114BC, the world was created. Or it was if you are using the MesoAmerican, or Mayan, long form calendar, which takes 11 August 3114BC as the day the universe sprang into life. The calendar uses a modified base 20 scheme to tally its days, modified so that the second to last digit rolls over to zero when it reaches 18 (so this second to last digit is in base 18). The calendar is notable for using a zero to indicate a place with nothing in it (so 0.0.0.0.1 is the first day, 0.0.0.1.0 is the 18th day), a very early use of the concept of zero. The world we live in was due to end on 21 December 2012, the last day of a 5,126 year cycle, according to various millennialists. This obviously never happened.
Time of the Wolf (2003, dir: Michael Haneke)
Roland Emmerich’s 2012 seems the obvious place to start with any film relating to the end of the world. But how about a far less obvious choice, by Michael Haneke, known for his unflinching portraits of voyeuristic violence (Funny Games), moral culpability (Hidden) and physical decay (Amour). Time of the Wolf is Haneke’s version of a post-apocalyptic world and it is about as pitiless as you can get. It also, unusually for a film of the time (it’s common now) doesn’t tell us there has been any gigantic calamity, merely leaves us to work it out for ourselves. Which we gradually do after processing the data Haneke presents us with: a French speaking family trying to retreat to a cabin in the woods, we assume for a weekend away. When they get there they find the cabin is already occupied. At this point we might expect a bit of shouting, exchanges ending in “I’m going to call the police”. Instead the squatters hold them at gunpoint, steal the family’s food and car, and then, most likely accidentally, kill the father. The mother (Isabelle Huppert) is left with the kids, no supplies and no vehicle, and we’re left with the distinct feeling, as in Funny Games, of bewilderment, that a film about a family on holiday for the weekend now seems to have become a film about a mindless murder of a father. And so begins part two of Time of the Wolf, as Huppert and her two children wander through a rural landscape that looks pretty much as we’d expect it to look in modern-day France.
Except there seems to be no law and order and neighbours are taking arms against each other. Or so we are told in one ugly scene after another. The woman and her brood eventually find a small colony where people have banded together for mutual assistance. But its leader is a brute and the quid pro quo for his protection is that everyone do unquestioningly what he says. This, Haneke is telling us, is what life without civilisation looks like, and it’s a bleak vision of what might happen. Unusually for someone of his generation – Haneke was born in the 1940s and came of age in the 1960s – there is no time in his philosophy for romantic notions of the noble savage, the perfect human beings we might all be if only “the man” would butt out of our lives. Instead, like Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Haneke is reminding us of what we have, what we have achieved and how easy it would be to lose it all.
There aren’t any jokes, there isn’t any comic relief and at times you wish there might be a Roland Emmerich big bang or soppy moment where someone gets an old CD player to work and they dance to an old tune, or something, anything. No such luck. And shooting it all in slatey greys and blues, dead greens, in darkness and mist, Haneke and cinematographer Jürgen Jürges seem to be going for the atmosphere of Ragnarök – the apocalypse of Norse legend, according to which a mythical wolf swallows the sun and the moon, causing the twilight of the gods.
- A grim apocalyptic drama
- The always watchable Isabelle Huppert
- Jürgen Jürges’s almost monochrome cinematography
- Its powerful, and bizarrely hopeful, message
© Steve Morrissey 2014