Michael Haneke talks about TIME OF THE WOLF


Michael Haneke returns to Cannes with his new film Time of the Wolf a here-and-now science-fiction film that goes to the core of fear starring Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Béatrice Dalle and Patrice Chéreau.

You began work on the Time of the Wolf project some time ago. Why did you decide to make the film now?

MICHAEL HANEKE: I originally wrote it as a science-fiction film, and now it’s set in the present. The audience no longer has to be prepared for the possibility of catastrophes happening. I was working on the screenplay for a different film when I was bowled over by 9/11, and I thought, “Something which has a lot in common with Time of the Wolf is happening here.” It was originally supposed to be my first project with Isabelle Huppert. Despite her support and that of the now-deceased Toscan du Plantier, financing the project wasn’t possible: too expensive, too complex, not a lot of fun, in other words difficult to sell. Thanks to the success of The Piano Teacher, backers were prepared to invest more money, and because of the material’s unfortunate currency due to 9/11, it suddenly became possible.


What does the title refer to?

MICHAEL HANEKE: TIME OF THE WOLFE - Interview: It comes from the Edda, the oldest surviving collection of Germanic poetry, which contains “Sibyl’s Prophecy” about the end of the world, Götterdämmerung. The lines just before the Twilight of the Gods are “A wind-age, a wolf-age till the world ruins: / No man to another shall mercy show.”

A science-fiction story has been turned into a tale set firmly in the present day. Did this prove to be an advantage dramatically?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  I didn’t want to make a disaster movie::: there are plenty of those already. The decisive aspect of disaster movies is that the extreme situation involved, whether it’s a war, an atomic catastrophe, an environmental disaster, increases the consumer appeal through exaggeration. The more extreme the events, the easier it is for the audience to maintain a distance. The important thing was that people think anything could happen to them at any time, here and now, that the story is as believable as possible for the highly pampered individuals in our highly industrialized society. I wanted to make a film which has nothing to do with the spectacular nature of the disaster-movie genre. We have disaster movies every day on the news anyway.


The disaster remains in the background?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  The audience can choose a disaster for themselves. What interested me was how people deal with their fellow human beings under pressure.


Since the point is not how things can be returned to normal, are the central issues the struggle for survival and the vague hope that things could be better elsewhere?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  How I react when electricity stops coming out of the socket and when water stops coming out of the faucet. That, simply put, is the theme. Hopeæthat’s the victim’s backbone. When you’re not the one sitting at the controls, there’s nothing to do but sit and hope and wait to see what happens. When electricity stops coming out of the socket and there’s no more water coming out of the faucet, things will look extremely grim extremely fast if there’s no hope.


As a logical consequence, a large part of the film is set at night, in darkness. Is that justified both esthetically as well as with regard to the story?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  I hope that the story to some extent matches the form (laughs). We accustomed ourselves to the fact that there is never complete darkness, there’s always some source of light. What I wanted to know was what would a film look like without artificial light, 20 meters from a fire. Esthetically, this limitation of the field of vision is something beautiful, and unsettling. This helplessness in the dark fascinated me. Apart from that, darkness in film is of course difficult technically, and we were close to the edge.


Most scenes were shot in the Burgenland on the Hungarian border, at an interface between the West and (what used to be) the East Bloc. Is there any indication of setting other than the French license plates on cars?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  The actors speak French, therefore the story is probably set in France. But the location is wholly secondary. A train station in a godforsaken place could be anywhere. The only definite thing is that we’re in the highly industrialized part of the world, because the film shows members of a society with an overabundance of material things. People who, like you and me, have become accustomed to a life of prosperity and for that reason can identify with this story on the basis of their own lives. A cultivated married couple arrives at a luxurious country house with their children, they open the door, and suddenly nothing is the way it used to be.


In contrast to The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf is an ensemble film. Does this place any additional demands on a director?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  I think that it’s extremely interesting dramatically. I’ve made several ensemble films since Lemmings. This choral form of narration, in which a number of voices are heard and more public and personal space can be added to the story, represents a fascinating aspect and is of course more difficult to direct. No pain, no gain (laughs).


Time of the Wolf has an excellent cast, with Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Patrice Chéreau and Béatrice Dalle. There were not very many opportunities for individual actors to stand out.

MICHAEL HANEKE: It might not have been so easy for the actors to remain in the background and sit around waiting to come on camera every once in a while. But everyone was familiar with the screenplay and they apparently liked their roles.


The actual main characters in Time of the Wolf are three children. Children often play a central role in your films. Why?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  Children occupy the lower end on the scale of suffering. Dramatically, victims are more productive than perpetrators. Apart from that, working with children is a lot of fun. They don’t lie. When they’re talented, their spontaneity makes them better than any actor. We were lucky, because they carry the film wonderfully.


Many of your films deal with man’s ability to suffer. That almost has a religious aspect.

MICHAEL HANEKE:  Whenever I start to examine something seriously, I can never get around going to the core of fear. How are we supposed to depict our society without talking about suffering? Suffering and death represent the great rifts in creation. These are the questions that go deepest under everyone’s skin.


Can one learn something from that as a viewer?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  I don’t think that a film is able to teach anybody anything. But in precise depictions of both misery and hope, there is always a glimmer of a utopia, because precision is possible only through sympathizing with others.


What role does music play in Time of the Wolf?

MICHAEL HANEKE:  A beautiful role, in my opinion, because it’s minimalistic. We can hear a very, very quiet passage from Beethoven’s Frühlingssonate. In an extremely miserable moment in the story, an old cassette player, its batteries almost dead, plays this wonderful melody. The utopian power of these few notes is extremely moving.


Your next film will star Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, and shooting begins this summer. Will this be a completely different film?

MICHAEL HANEKE: It will be in the thriller genre. At the same time, the basic theme is suppressed personal guilt. Someone who is guilty of an injustice as a child is later confronted by their victim in adulthood. The question I ask in all my films is how we wrong others.


Interview: Martin Schweighofer, Karin Schiefer (2003)