Cannes review: Happy End (2017)

Michael Haneke’s Happy End deconstructs a wealthy bourgeois family living a life oblivious to the human beings around them with chilling results.


by Alexa Dalby

Happy End

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

When Michael Haneke makes a film titled Happy End, it’s a good sign that its conclusion will be anything but. Once again Isabelle Huppert stars for him, this time as Anne Laurent, the CEO of the family construction business, founded by her elderly father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Anne is engaged to an Englishman (Toby Jones), who is setting up a loan for the family business with a British bank. The family dynasty all live together in a mansion in Calais – there’s her doctor brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his new wife Anais (Laura Verlinden) and baby, and Anne’s troubled son Pierre (Franz Rogowski). Thomas’s ex-wife is hospitalised with an overdose, so their 13-year-old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) reluctantly comes to live with him and the rest of his family. They have two North African servants that they treat with condescension.

Eve is an observer and a snoop, and we are never quite sure how dangerous she can be. Her use of new technology alienates her from the world around. She takes and commentates on iPhone footage of the adults around her, and she hacks into her father’s Facebook to uncover explicit sexual messages from his lover. After a crisis in which a wall at a building site collapses due to Pierre’s managerial incompetence, family ties start to fray and it’s Eve and her grandfather who start to emerge as dominant characters. When he tells Eve a shocking fact about his past, he identifies himself as the husband in Haneke’s earlier film <ahref=””>Amour.

The wealthy Laurent family live in Calais, apparently oblivious to the immigrant crisis all around, until Pierre tries to shock and derail his grandfather’s 85th birthday party by introducing into the upmarket restaurant where the many guests are dining a group of Africans he has found on the street. Told in harsh, spare shots, it is clear that this family are emotionless, no one is capable of love for anyone, and both the youngest and the oldest members of the family – Eve and Georges – want to die and are finding it harder to achieve than they thought. Their happy ending – and resolution for a dysfunctional though comfortably-off family in this claustrophobic drama – is still to be found, if it’s ever possible.

Happy End is now showing in the Official Selection at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

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