2003, France/Austria/Germany, directed by Michael Haneke
Like all of Michael Haneke's films, The Time of the Wolf is something of a challenge to the viewer, though here the test isn't linked just to the visceral experiences depicted onscreen: the film also pushes at our willingness to accept a storyline which provides no answers, or even hints of answers, to our most obvious questions (as if to compound the disorientation, there's the additional visual challenge of several lengthy sequences shot in conditions so dark it's difficult to know what is going on). Opening in an apparently bucolic country setting that recalls the beginning of his previous Funny Games, the film's action quickly turns sour when it becomes clear that some catastrophic event has overtaken France - and perhaps the world.
That's about as far as the film goes in conforming to the post-apocalyptic genre, since it steadfastly refuses to provide any reasons for the events onscreen (no nuclear bomb, no 28 Days Later-style plague), and delves instead into the behaviour of a small group of refugees who have pinned their hopes on the arrival of a train that may take them to a better location. Haneke is most interested in exploring how his characters react under pressure, and their regression to a primitive and sometimes violent state occurs on the schedule that might be expected from the filmmaker; in that, it's rather more predictable than many of his other films, although he manages to sustain an atmosphere of tension throughout the running time, and there are several startling sequences that impart a nightmare quality to his vision of a society ripped asunder. Isabelle Huppert, in the lead role, seems coltish in almost all of her film appearances, but Haneke leaches that quality right out of her, and her character's descent into despair, cut off from her own children, is perhaps the strongest aspect of the film.