Note: This review may contain what you consider spoilers. Skip if that doesn't float your review boat--
Yesterday, I caught a film from 2002, French with subtitles, called Le Temps Du Loup: THE TIME OF THE WOLF.
It's a difficult film to watch, but I found myself utterly engrossed. There is no way I could turn off this film after the harrowing opening scene grabbed me completely:
A family of four, the Laurents, drive to their country home--mom, dad, son, daughter. Upon entering their cottage, they find that another family is squatting there: a man, his wife, and a boy. They are grim-faced and the man raises his rifle to the Laurents. As Mr. Laurent tries to be reasonable, speaking calmly, offering to share his food and water with the family, to work something out, the squatter shoots Laurent. We see blood splatter on the wife's face, played by Isabel Huppert.
The squatters take the supplies and cast the woman and children off with only a can of juice, some biscuits, what they are wearing and carrying in the mother's purse, and a bicycle.
Then we see the stricken woman-who is clearly in shock--visit the magistrate. He refuses to help--Don't you know what's happened? he says--and tells her to go away. Closes his door on the bereaved threesome. They knock on neighbor's doors in the village. None will open to her.
We know something is very, very wrong. She knows their names. They've been her neighbors for years. But none will let them in out of the cold night.
Yes, something is wrong, very wrong.
This is a film in the tradition of the post-apocalyptic story. Some sort of plague has hit this country (seems like France, but one could assume the wider world is stricken, at minimum Europe). Water is scarce. Food supplies are not moving as they used to. Animals are affected and being burned. Hunger is rampant. Trains don't stop for passengers.
And now this family must find a way to survive without supplies, in the cold, without their Pater Familias, and with a terrible grief to bear.
It's enough to break your heart, this chilling opening.
The story follows them as they meet up with a filthy, feral youth--a boy who is a loner, who steals to survive, who will not join up with a group, but lives in the woods in solitary suspiciousness and pessimissm. The misanthropic survivalist. Then they meet up with a quarrelsome group at a train station. They hope a train will come. (At this point, it starts to feel as if WAITING FOR GODOT has become a horrifying sci-fi story, because we can only wonder if a train ever WILL come, and if they wait in vain.)
Terrible things are done. Amazingly kind things are done. Hope is minimal, but not completely lost. Some people try to keep things civilized, to be fair. More terrible losses are in store.
I watched, mesmerized, horrified. I wondered: What would I do with MY back against the wall? Would I be like the kinder folks, and would I comfort and share? Or would I be one of the "me and mine" folks, and cast out the wanderer for pragmatic and selfish reasons? Would I withhold water from a thirsting woman or child today, just to be able to give it to my own tomorrow? Would I succumb to survival of the fittest or the cruelest or the one with the biggest rifle?
I hope not. I hope that grace will abound. That this film made me stop and consider my own soul, well, that tells me it's powerful and worthy.
But I do NOT know the anwer. I do not comfort myself with thinking I will be among the great and giving righteous on that day. I can only pray I will.
Part of the ongoing imagery in story and action and dialogue in the film harkens to the idea of the 35 Righteous of Jewish legend. Those 36 people who, by virtue of being on the planet and being of such goodness, that they keep the world from being destroyed. (Think of the story of Abraham's pleading for Sodom, how God could not really destroy a city with even TEN righteous souls in it, would he?)
And as if to prove that there is something to this, we see a woman bring a bit of warm goat milk to a very old man, who in turn takes not one sip, but gives it ALL to his frail wife, who drinks it up in silence, him holding the bowl to her lips.
And we see a woman offer to give up her bicycle, another to give up his watch, to get water for a woman with nothing left to trade except sex.
And we see an addled, shocked, silent boy ready to make the ultimate, horrific sacrifice if it will save the world.
Even in the midst of the selfish and murderous and quarrelsome, a few lights shine.
The movie is named after an era spoken of in Norse legend, the wolf-age, the time of the wolf. The age that precedes the end of the world. These lines are from the Norse poem VOLUPSA:
Brother will fight brother and be his slayer,
brother and sister will violate the bonds of kinship;
hard it is in the world, there is much adultery,
axe-age, sword-age, shields are cleft asunder,
wind-age, wolf-age, before the world plunges headlong;
no man will spare another.
These words are compatible with what we read in the eschatalogical writings of Judaism and Christianity. (Perhaps Islam, too, but I am not as familiar with those texts.)
I was very moved by this dark and depressing film, and grateful that the director gave us some light in the darkness, the light that came through acts of generosity and selflessness, no matter how scarce when catastrophe and chaos comes.
If you can bear it, I recommend LE TEMPS DU LOUP/THE TIME OF THE WOLF. It's not easy to watch, but I think there are lessons there worth viewing, and some very good scenes. And Isabel Huppert is, to me, always a delight to watch.