Another excoriating observation of the contemporary French upper class from Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (Amour, 2012; The White Ribbon, 2009; Cache, 2005). However, this narrative following the lives of a family who own a construction company in the Pas de Calais, is infused with dark humour.
Dir: Michael Haneke, France, 110 mins, 2017.
We previously screened Cache (Hidden) – with Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche – at the Health & Wellbeing Centre in 2007. In his 2012 film Amour, Haneke cast Jean Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert as father and daughter and, in the film you are about to see, he appears to continue the father/daughter relationship as a ‘mini-sequel’ to the events portrayed in the earlier film.
Georges Laurent (Trintignant) now lives with his daughter Anne (Huppert), who is the managing director of the family business in Calais. Tensions are rife amongst members of the family, who live in a form of elegant purgatory. Anne’s divorced brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), an ineffectual doctor, has been called upon to care for his troubled teenage daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin, in a show-stealing role) following a poisoning accident suffered by her mother. However, video diary footage on Eve’s mobile ‘phone suggests sinister intent. Georges finds a sympathetic accomplice in Eve in his attempts to self-euthanise, often to wickedly comic effect. Into this toxic mix comes Anne’s negligent son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) whose mismanagement of a serious accident at the construction site raises the temperature and sense of jeopardy surrounding this rather unlikeable family.
To add to the feeling of general unease, Haneke draws on the backdrop of Calais where the migrant camp, notoriously named ‘The Jungle’, illustrates the social and racial tensions of the time. Haneke uses his camera to distance us from the drama as it plays out, contrasting it with modern-day camera surveillance which records our lives in all their minutiae.
“[Haneke’s] unique take on film-making and the world around him is not for everyone, of course but those on his wavelength should find Happy End to be a bracing, sometimes difficult and largely rewarding experience whose title may not be quite as ironic as it may initially seem” Peter Sobczynski, rogerebert.com
Yet another interesting film from Michael Haneke. His films are nearly always enigmatic and take time to resolve the various family tensions and power struggles – Happy End was no exception. The central characters were revealed to have a number of ‘issues’ and emotional baggage – rather like modern life! There were often narrative tensions across the age and power spectrum. The ending was great!
For a contemporary ‘slice-of-life’ film, it kept you mostly engaged with its unconventional plot twists and arresting portrayal of key details, eg smartphone footage and social media screenshots. The ensemble cast’s performances were good, bringing every character vividly to life. Happy End is certainly a welcome addition to Haneke’s respected back catalogue.
An enjoyable, blackly humorous romp! The ending was terrific, in which Laurent’s third attempt at his intention to commit suicide is seemingly frustrated once again. Although set in Calais, the film reminded me of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, especially the shop fronts and petrol stations.
A clever, intelligent and sharply observant piece of work from Michael Haneke – justly enhancing his reputation as a contemporary auteur. Isabelle Huppert subtly superb as the hard-nosed family CEO.