Review: Michael Haneke revisits old themes in arthouse by numbers Happy End
- Credit: Curzon
Oscar-winning German film-maker Michael Haneke crafts another portrait of an insular privileged dysfunctional family who can't go 15 minutes without one of them getting poisoned, beaten up, attempting suicide or dying.
Happy End (15)
Michael Haneke enjoys a lofty critical reputation, but Happy End is his first film this century (other than his American remake of Funny Games) not to receive euphoric, one-of-the-year's-best praise.
The subject is insular white privilege as demonstrated by an affluent but calamity prone French family. They can't go 15 minutes without one of them getting poisoned, beaten up, attempting suicide or dying.
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Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) is the glamorous owner of a construction firm in Calais, who must juggle business pressures with responsibilities to her family. She lives in an opulent mansion with her ailing father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a heavy-drinking son Pierre (Franz Rogowski), her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his wife Anais (Laura Verlinden).
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The collapse of a wall at one of Anne's construction site results in severe injuries to one of the crew. The company faces a potential lawsuit and Anne liaises with lawyer Lawrence Bradshaw (Toby Jones) to minimise the damage.
In the midst of this upheaval, Thomas agrees to care for his estranged teenage daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin), whose mother has recently attempted suicide, and Pierre is physically assaulted by an angry family member of the injured workman.
The film revisits themes and images from his previous films. And he is again hammering home his overriding theme that high culture is ultimately no protection for our base nature.
Whatever your feelings on Haneke, you could never deny that he is a fearsomely accomplished filmmaker. Each of his films has its own identity, but are unmistakeably his.
I hated, absolutely detested, Amour and Funny Games (both times) but still marvelled at their artistry. If they weren't so good, I wouldn't have been so vexed by them.
Happy End though could be by anyone. It is shot in a drab realistic style and, apart from a couple of strikingly composed scenes and the very effective performance he gets out of the kid, it's arthouse by the number.
Using the failings and secrets of a rich family as a microcosm of society's failings is a tired, overused idea, and I wonder if this is perhaps deliberate, that its unoriginality and triteness is a way of reflecting a culture that has exhausted itself.
Haneke is now 75 years old and the title makes you wonder if this is intended as some kind of final statement, that this is his last laugh. He is definitely a man for pioneering parody without mirth. The ineptness of the film's closing images had me fist in mouth trying to choke back hoots of laughter. This is our Happy End: a spent force telling us that we are a spent force.