In recent weeks I have been thinking of Michael Haneke’s film Time of the Wolf, which I must have seen at the Renoir, near St Pancras, in 2003.
It was set in a Europe that has been struck by some explained catastrophe. Refugees wait at wayside station for trains that may not come or stop if they do.
I found it hard viewing - I would not have said at the time that I enjoyed it - but days later found myself thinking about it. Fourteen years on I am thinking about it still, because recent political events are starting to make it look prophetic.
Bright Lights finds redemption in the film too:
For all this atmosphere of barely contained violence, there is opportunity too for simple acts of compassion, sharing, and human communion. A bowl of milk is given, not bartered for. A man lets Eva hear a snatch of classical music on his Walkman. An old man entertains the children with a razor blade swallowing act.
And there is myth-making. In the original group under Koslowski’s leadership, Béa (Brigitte Roüan) told of the 35 Just, a select group whose mission is to safeguard humanity. The old man (Claude Singeot) elaborates on this with a tale of bonfires being lit in villages, sites for acts of individual, redeeming self-sacrifice.
Which leads then to the powerful climax of the film, set at night on the railway track outside, with the guards doing their rounds, the darkness illuminated by the light from a bonfire on the track itself. Ben awakens in the middle of the night, with all his fears and tensions breaking forth in the form of a nosebleed.
His face now streaked with blood, he goes to the railway track outside, stokes the fire there, and stands in front of it. With his (and our) memory resonating with the old man’s tale, he proceeds to strip, standing naked, leaning towards the fire.
The camera stays on the back of one of the guards resting some distance off — in fact, he’s the one who accused the Pole, established by the story so far as violent and brutal — and then, as he becomes aware of what’s happening, tracks with him to the right up to the bonfire.
Which is where he "saves" Ben, hugging him to his body, and offering him a vision of optimism and hope — all the more striking for being voiced by this violent, unpleasant, negative character:I found this vision of redemption a little pat, given all that had gone before, but I would like to see the film again today.
A final point...
The film stars Isabelle Huppert and I wonder if Julian Huppert should start pronouncing his surname the way she does - Ooo-pair.
It could be the key to victory in sophisticated Cambridge.