Michael Haneke’s Happy End deconstructs the internal dynamics of a wealthy bourgeois family living a life oblivious to the human beings around them, with chilling results.
Endgameby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
When Michael Haneke makes a film titled Happy End, there’s a very good chance that it will be anything but that. Once again (after Amour) 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 their baby, and Anne’s troubled adult son Pierre (Franz Rogowski). When Thomas’s ex-wife is hospitalised with an overdose, their 13-year-old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) reluctantly comes to live with him, her step-mother and the rest of his family. The family has two North African servants (Hassam Ghancy and Nabiha Akkari) that they treat with condescension.
Unhappy Eve is a precocious observer and a snoop. Her use of new technology alienates her from the world around and we are never quite sure how dangerous she can be. She takes and adds her comments to revealing iPhone footage of the adults around her, and she hacks into her father’s Facebook account to uncover explicit sexual messages to him from his secret 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, at either end of the age spectrum, 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 Amour, with all those resonances.
The wealthy Laurent family live in Calais, apparently oblivious to the pervading immigrant crisis all around them, 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 African migrants he has found on the street.
Told in harsh, spare shots, with jagged string accompaniment that gives a sense of foreboding, it is clear that this family are emotionless, no one is capable of love for anyone, and that both the youngest and the oldest members of the family – Eve and Georges – want to die and even though they try, they are finding it harder to achieve than they thought. Though there is an apparent finality, their happy ending – and resolution for the privileged dysfunctional family in this claustrophobic drama – is yet to be found, even if it’s ever possible.
Happy End premiered at the 70th Cannes Film Festival,screened in the 61st BFI London Film Festival and is released on 1 December 2017 in the UK.