'Amour' director Michael Haneke and Isabelle Huppert reteam for a drama about a middle-class French family with an emotional sickness at its heart
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's last film was 2012’s ‘Amour’, a harrowing yet moving story of old age underscored by love. His latest, ‘Happy End’ (don’t believe that title for a second), feels like a kick in the teeth of the earlier film, as though someone had accused European cinema’s high-minded provocateur of going soft and his response has been to reprise the suffering of ‘Amour’ but cancel the warmth completely.
Bleak in atmosphere and teasing in its jigsaw construction of ensemble moments, ‘Happy End’ is a snapshot of roughly a year in the life of a Calais family. The Laurents run a major construction firm and live in old-money style with servants. But there’s nothing familial about them. They share the same DNA but mask their depressions, schemes and perversions from each other. Haneke reminds us, too, that just down the road from the Laurents is the Calais migrant camp: if we’re to read anything into the Laurents’s diseased privilege, we should assume Haneke is talking about much more than just one family. This is a state-of-modern-Europe morality play.
At the head of the household is ailing Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who doesn't have a friendly word to say to anyone and is consumed with anger and regret. His daughter, Anne (Isabelle Huppert), runs the family business day-to-day and has a grown-up son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), who has a drink problem and a chip on his shoulder about the family’s wealth. Anne’s brother, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), is an emotionally-stunted doctor, married to his second wife, Anaïs (Laura Verlinden), but seeking dirty thrills online. The couple has a new baby, and Thomas is also father to 13-year-old Eve (Fantine Harduin), who comes to stay after her mum attempts suicide.
‘Happy End’ talks back to almost all of 75-year-old Haneke’s previous films, so much so that it feels like a career epilogue. Just as in the director’s first film, 1988’s ’The Seventh Continent’, suicide hangs heavily over ‘Happy End’. And admirers will see echoes everywhere: a tracking shot similar to one in ‘Code Unknown’; film-within-the-film surveillance cameras and home videos as in ‘Hidden’ and ‘Benny’s Video’; even a creepy young man with dark shadows under his eyes who looks like he’s stepped out of ‘Funny Games’.
There are hints that this is a companion piece to ‘Amour’, partly in a plot point that mirrors exactly an event in the earlier film, but also the casting of Trintignant and Huppert as father and daughter, and again giving Huppert’s character a British partner, here a London financier played by Toby Jones. ‘Happy End’ is a much more meandering, less contained film though, and it doesn’t have a central, gripping mystery like ‘Hidden’ and ‘The White Ribbon’. Rather it has a series of more isolated queries and conundrums. It’s a more diffuse film, and a more despairing one, although there are flashes of gallows humour to lighten the pileup of downers. And the happy end? Happy hunting.
Cast and crew
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4.7 / 5
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Although this may not have the central dramatic punch and mystery which are prevalent in Haneke's previous works, Happy End is almost a return to his earlier film days and how many artists can we say that about? Intelligent film making from one of worlds best.
One critic called this new work from Michael Haneke a “black comedy”. I can only say that if this was a “black comedy”, I shudder to imagine what would be the 75-year-old auteur’s take on a tragedy.
Having said that, it is well worth biting the bullet and seeing this truly superb film which beautifully handles the many intermingled plot lines and features a flawless cast headed by French film giants Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant.
The overall theme is suicide and the action centres on the strained relationships of a wealthy French family of building entrepreneurs based in Calais which nicely contrasts with the poverty and failed hopes of the “jungle” refugees down the road.
A 12-year-old girl from one of the family’s failed first marriage is shipped into their palatial mansion after her mother’s suicide attempt.
Trintignant, the family aged patriarch, on the verge of total dementia, is desperately seeking someone to help him end it all and one of the best funny moments is where he tries to persuade his horrified barber to help him do it.
Huppert’s somewhat deranged son also behaves as though it won’t be long before he joins the suicide club too.
Toby Jones pops up as the family’s English legal and financial adviser and, as ever, turns in an impeccable performance.
if you saw and loved Haneke’s previous film “Amour” you will definitely enjoy this one but stroll in the park it most definitely isn’t, more a nightmare crawl into tombstone territory with a few grim chuckles.
A wonderful film showing us the reflective depressive nature of our lives..Suicide is the prevalent force in this plot..l loved the way the director moved between each character showing their foibles and lies and sense of self destruction.The 13 year old is the star of this film with her sad, cold desperation but allied to a very sharp intelligence..No manipulative music here to help the narrative.Instead we have dialogue and silence..It is a cerebral slice of film making that will not appeal to many in Britain,but to the discerning few it is worth a look..5 stars