Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
France/Austria/Germany, 2003. Arte France Cinéma, Bavaria Film, Canal+, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Eurimages, France 3 Cinéma, Les Films du Losange, Wega Film. Screenplay by Michael Haneke. Cinematography by Jurgen Jurges. Produced by Veit Heiduschka, Margaret Menegoz. Production Design by Christoph Kanter. Costume Design by Lisy Christl. Film Editing by Nadine Muse, Monika Willi. Cannes Film Festival 2003. Toronto International Film Festival 2003
Michael Haneke follows his disturbing The Piano Teacher with this very low-key thriller. Following an unnamed post-apocalyptic disaster, a family of four drive up to their country cottage with provisions in the hopes of waiting out the disaster in safety and peace. When they arrive they encounter squatters who kill the father and set the mother (Isabelle Huppert) and her two children wandering the bleak countryside with a bicycle and the clothes on their backs. Their journey becomes a perilous one until they find themselves in an abandoned railway station with a group of other “survivors” whose little microcosm ends up becoming a harsher survival game than anything they had to face outside. The drama is incredibly intense, and the photography of dark midnight fields lit only by burning hay torches is completely hypnotic, but the story’s symbolism is often overly obvious and pretentious. Microcosms are probably among the most overused narrative gimmicks in cinema, and Haneke would have been wiser to have let more of the story rest on his incredible leading lady instead of his babbly dialogue: Huppert is, as always, superb, but underused and not focused upon enough. The ending will drive some viewers crazy, or be a welcome relief to others, and though it doesn’t achieve all of its very obvious goals it is an interesting attempt.