I hope the end isn't near, but I do hope the end of "the end is near" movies is near.
For whatever reason, many filmmakers seem to believe it's all falling apart and are dead set on playing it out in apocalyptic fantasies. The latest entrant in the oblivion sweepstakes is "The Time of the Wolf," a French movie with a German director. It's actually quite similar to the recent end-of-the-worlder "Strayed," even down to production choices. Each stars a still-beautiful, if now mature, French star as a recent widow who finds herself, with two children (a boy and a girl in both cases), in the middle of a civic disaster in which society has broken down, chaos is rampant and it's every widowed mom for herself. She bonds with a surprisingly resilient teenage boy who steers the little group through some difficulties.
The differences: First, "Strayed" starred Emmanuelle Beart and "The Time of the Wolf" stars Isabelle Huppert. Can you tell them apart? I think I can, but the Internet Movie Database is a big help along those lines. Second, the world that ended in "Strayed" was the petit-bourgeoisie sense of stability the Germans smashed in 1940; the world that ends in "The Time of the Wolf" is the petit-bourgeoisie sense of stability some kind of eco-disaster smashes today, or possibly tomorrow. Third, "Strayed" focused on the family unit; "The Time of the Wolf" focuses on the community.
On vacation, Anna and her two kids and daddy arrive at their country vacation house. Dad promptly bites a bullet (not a pretty scene) from some interlopers, setting up the situation: While the family was heading out for its rustication, society collapsed and set everyone to scattering and pillaging. Just how the family didn't pick up on this in time isn't specified.
So now mom and siblings are left to head across a deserted landscape. This isn't the Aussie version of a punk apocalypse from "Mad Max," where freebooters in leathers with Mohawks and face paint terrorize survivors; everyone in this picture appears to be of the French bourgeoisie, and they find it as hard to be polite to one another as they do to American tourists in Paris these days.
The railroad station attracts stragglers who dream of moving out of the zone on trains that no longer arrive. Therefore it becomes the last vestige of community, and Anna, her two kids and her teenage guardian end up there, finding a petty dictatorship run by a guy named Koslowski who seems to have everybody's best interests at heart but is clearly overmatched by his job.
More than anything, the film is a study of people trying to find political and moral cohesion in troubled times. The story is convincing, as are the details, but too much is anecdotal, as this or that family in the station takes dramatic centrality for a bit. Still, "The Time of the Wolf" -- named, presumably, for the nastiness unleashed by catastrophe -- is more than watchable, if less than compelling.
The Time of the Wolf (110 minutes, at Visions Bar Noir) is rated R for sexuality and violence, including animal deaths.