Set in the indeterminate milieu of an idyllically pastoral, rural province, a family from “the city” arrives at their summer home for a seeming holiday getaway to find a hostile, armed squatter and his family in the premises. Following an unprovoked act of senseless violence, Anna (Isabelle Huppert) and her children, Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) and Ben (Lucas Biscombe) are robbed of home, transportation (except for a bicycle), and provisions and cast out to roam the countryside in search of assistance. Eventually making their way into a loose, cooperative alliance of displaced, multicultural families living under the protection of a pragmatic, armed leader named Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet) at a disused way station, the family soon find themselves struggling with day to day survival, desperately pinning their ever-dimming hopes on a nebulous plan to compel a freight train to make an unscheduled stop for boarding so that they may be transported away from their oppressively inhuman nightmare. Recalling the distilled austerity, psychological desolation, and unconscionable violence of the filmmaker’s early Austrian films, Benny’s Video (which, uncoincidentally, is the enigmatic son’s name) and The Seventh Continent (although lacking the essential concentration of these films), Michael Haneke’s allegorical, post-apocalyptic anthropological dissection of catastrophe, alienation, dehumanization, and primalism is compelling, profoundly unnerving, and unrelentingly provocative. The film’s recurring elemental motif of fire – like the tribe’s literal and figurative existential way station – serves as an ambivalent symbol of destruction, instinctual self-survival, and ultimately, a tenuous glimmer of hope and humanity.
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