Happy End (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke has a devoted and loyal fanbase, and they've waiting a long, long time to see him work once again.
A curious and unpredictable film, with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant reprising their roles from Amour, and a terrific breakthrough from 13-year-old actress Fantine Harduin.
Haneke plays with conventions, spiking in uncomfortable humor with bleak overtones, resulting in a polarizing and off-kilter film experience.
For Haneke fans only. Happy End is not a movie that finds its way to wider audiences, despite his Oscar-winning films of the past.
There is little "happy" to be found here. Even when the film offers stabs of humor in a darkly comedic way, Happy End has a lot of characters who are unlikable and hard to have compassion for.
Hard to know the answer to the question - "What was the point of that?"
When you scroll through the list of films from the 2010s and look at movies that might generate sequels, I doubt that many would have pegged Michael Haneke's 2012 drama Amour as one of them. Winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and nominated for five Oscars overall, Haneke's somber, stunner of a film told the story of Georges and Anne, an elderly couple sharing out their last days following Anne's debilitating stroke.
With Happy End, I am not sure if it is fair to call this a sequel per se, but it continues the storyline of the curmudgeonly old man, Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant), now widowed, and daughter Anna "Eva" Laurent (Isabelle Huppert). We also branch off and meet Anna's brother Thomas (Matthieu Kassovitz), his second wife Anais (Laura Verlinden), and his daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin). Anna's son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is also here, as is a cellist, Claire (Loubna Abidar), whose connection to the family will potentially prove problematic.
Built as an ensemble piece, Haneke moves us around the fits and frustrations which surround the Laurent family and crafts a film built around depression, deception, and distance. He also brings around some of his trademark Hanekeisms: A couple pivotal scenes occur far, far away from the viewer, where people converse, but we are unable to hear what is being said. Elements of the film are framed through Eve's Snapchat usage, capturing much of what she sees and feels with a tool that connects her to the world...from a distance.
Anne manages the Laurent family construction business and within the first 10 minutes of the film, she has a significant problem on her hands. Under Pierre's supervision, a structural cave-in at a construction site has killed an employee, delayed the project, and brought the lawyers into the room. Conveniently, Anne knows a good one - her boyfriend Lawrence (Toby Jones).
Michael Haneke movies are their own unique creations. No one tells a story quite like he does and he retains an observational and eavesdropping tone to convey the machinations the Laurents work through. The accident, mentioned above, sends Pierre into a spiral, Eve's Snapchat stories strip away privacy with a snarky comment or two, Anne is a manager of everything in her life, and Georges survives multiple suicide attempts and finds no profound joy left in living.
However, what stains everyone on screen is that the Laurents are so self-absorbed, they cannot see realities forming squarely in front of them. When Eve isolates and makes a potentially dangerous decision, everyone is aware of her struggles except her own father. Thomas' careless computer use exposes secrets to Eve and Anais. Georges is tired of being alive and plots and schemes for ways to take care of that situation on his own. Pierre is in the throes of a breakdown, which offers us one impressive karaoke performance, but also finds him laying in bed, unable to cry, move, or respond when his mother asks him what's wrong.
Happy End has so much good acting, cinematography, and dialogue within it, that I scratch my head wondering why the film doesn't deliver more of a wallop. Haneke is crisp and brittle here, but seems to struggle with making the individual stories add up to something of a greater whole. If the notion and intent is to tell a story that shows us that every family has issues and struggles and difficult circumstances to overcome, then Happy End certainly has those ingredients.
But even in unpredictable moments of humor and flat out odd behavior - a jump cut to an intense solo cello performance, that awesome karaoke sequence, and Georges' cantankerous argument with a barber quickly come to mind - these folks do tend to suck all the air out of the room. A handful of these characters are diabolical, cunning, and deeply disturbed, exhausting themselves each day by simply trying to survive within their own skin.
Happy End is not for everyone. For starters, it is an Austrian film, largely spoken in French, subtitled, with bleak overtones and not much "happy" to send you home with. Well acted, and almost gleefully bleak and off-kilter, this is still a movie that may struggle to define its purpose for some, while speaking volumes for others. Proceed with caution.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Franz Rogowski, Fantine Harduin, Laura Verlinden, Toby Jones, Nabiha Akkari, Hassam Ghancy.
Director: Michael Haneke
Written by: Michael Haneke
Release Date: December 22, 2007
Sony Pictures Classics