In a welcome departure from the deliberate provocations of such art-house shockers as BENNY'S VIDEO (1992) and FUNNY GAMES (1997), Austrian director Michael Haneke takes the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it disaster scenario and recasts it as a challenging, existential thriller. After an unnamed catastrophe disrupts life across Europe, Anne (Isabelle Huppert, who previously worked with Haneke in THE PIANO TEACHER); her husband, Georges (Daniel Duval); and their two young children, Ben (Lucas Biscombe) and Eva (Anais Demoustier), pack their car with whatever supplies they can carry and escape the chaos of the city for their weekend house deep in the wooded countryside — a move they soon regret. They discover that another frightened family has taken refuge in their cabin, and the father is ready to defend his new turf by whatever means necessary. Without warning, he shoots and kills George, leaving Anne and the children to fend for themselves with little more than a few provisions and a bicycle, in a still and misty countryside that seems eerily empty of people. During a dark night spent in an isolated barn, Anne awakens to find Ben missing; he returns early the following morning in the company of a rough adolescent boy (Hakim Taleb) whom Anne persuades to join them. He tells Anne about a depot farther south — one of the few where it's said trains now bother to stop — where she might be able to bribe their way on board a passing train. But when they reach their destination, they find they weren't the only ones with the same idea. A small, tension-riven community of refugees (including Beatrice Dalle, Patrice Chereau and Maurice Benichou) has taken up residence inside, lead by a man named Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet) who takes their pooled possessions to a nearby village to trade for such essentials as food and uncontaminated water. It's a scenario worthy of Sartre or Beckett — a group of strangers awaits a salvation that's probably never coming — and Haneke uses it wisely: to explore the ways in which "civilized" people react once civilization has been laid low, and where they ultimately place their faith. Moviegoers expecting a conventional sci-fi fantasy will be disappointed; Haneke never explains the vague disaster, nor does he offer any definitive solution. But like the best of the genre — John Wyndam's novel The Day of the Triffids comes immediately to mind — the film's very uncertainties reveal much of what we suspect is true about ourselves.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: R
- Review: In a welcome departure from the deliberate provocations of such art-house shockers as BENNY'S VIDEO (1992) and FUNNY GAMES (1997), Austrian director Michael Haneke takes the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it disaster scenario and recasts it as a challenging,… (more)