Happy End - This Haneke-Lite Movie Rocks
Dir: Michael Haneke
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Toby Jones
Happy End might well be labelled “Haneke-lite” seen against some of his key works, but it is nonetheless a deceptively simple dynastical family drama, that lurches into black comedy, and still continually compels. One thing that the filmmaker-provocateur’s latest does is to keeps it viewer constantly off-balance – just about all events in this movie occur – and then are subsequently explained. Not by means of flashback, it just so happens we only really learn what we are seeing in the scenes and conversations that follow, always allowing the viewer to try and subvert the action, interpreting what we are watching before having all or even any of the information.
Happy End focuses on the Laurents, a wealthy construction clan, whose business is falling into trouble as its construction site literally crumbles around them (much in the manner that their native Calais is falling apart both socially and economically.) Trintignant is the elderly patriarch who seems determined on offing himself, Huppert is his eldest daughter, now struggling with the company and in love with – and also possibly scheming with – Toby Jones’ British lawyer. Her son is on the verge of some kind of collapse, whilst her brother Kassovitz, is the only one who seems to have escaped the claws of their business empire – he is a doctor – but not their dysfunction. His ex has just taken an overdose and he is reunited with his 12 year old daughter Eve (a splendidly unreadable Harduin), who, given the recent poisoning of her pet hamster (shown in phone camera footage early on), may well know more about her mother’s recent accident that she is letting on. She certainly doesn’t seem averse to her grandfather’s plans to end it all.
The “jungle” of the recent Calais immigrant crisis intrudes in a couple of moments in Haneke’s movie, but it is by no means a central concern or theme. This is pure and simply a look at a great family in decline. And not even terminal decline, merely gradual. It’s superbly played by a note perfect ensemble, and whilst it never reaches – or even strives for – the emotional depths and complexities of Haneke at his strongest, it is still a very rewarding watch.
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