Frequently science fiction is about the sophistication of technology. But let's face it. it's more fun when it is about a complete technological breakdown that results in a return to primitivism: Planet of the Apes and Logan '5 Run come to mind. But usually the dystopia present has a clear cause: nuclear war, a food crisis, a time warp. But director Michael Haneke reckons he ‘didn‘t know enough about the genre to be able to avoid or seek out' the genre’s tropes.

What interests Haneke more in this tale of a mother (Isabelle Huppert), her two kids and a besieged holiday home is how people survive in a state of literal and figurative darkness. Like a number of other filmmakers in recent years (noticeably Godard, Kiarostami, Carax and Grandrieux) Haneke turns darkness into a phenomenological probe. What can we see in these incredibly dark images? Our problem is also the character’s problem. In one scene Huppert searches for her son, Ben, who's gone missing from the barn in which they've been sleeping. With nothing but a burning branch to help her, we empathise almost too much as she fumbles in the blackness.

Obviously the use of low-lighting is hardly fresh in itself - horror films have been using it since the beginning of cinema, but Haneke seems part of a wave of filmmakers finding ways to capture their characters in existential and emotional crises reflected in the lighting. Grandrieux’s Sombre focuses on a nocturnal serial killer, and in Pola X, Carax illustrates the central character’s descent - and obsession with

his half-sister - through low-lit sequences.

For all his grand illusions, though, Haneke knows that his use of shade is simply realistic: in this apocalyptic world there is no electricity. But it serves as a broader metaphor for a communication breakdown when people can no longer expect multimedia co-ordinates to make sense of their lives. This leaves room here for all sorts of superstitions and belief systems exemplified in one harrowing scene in which Ben looks like he's going to sacrifice himself to an obscure faith. This is hardly Haneke defending the media as a source of truth, but the

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Darkness and madness

characters do seem caught in a wider sense of darkness in which hearsay has such a key place. Haneke, of course, is always claiming he‘s no polemicist, but there’s a moral rectitude that usually hints at the despairing (Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher) but that gains ethical ambiguity by the depth of a performance (Huppert in The Piano Teacher), or the insistent rigour in the technique (the long take in Code Unknown and in this film). This might not be the mighty Haneke at his best, but as always. this is of dusky significance. (Tony McKibbin)

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26 THE LIST “5783- 0.”.

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