Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Kassovitz, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Toby Jones
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…another haunting masterwork.
Internationally renowned, and Palme d’Or winning, director Michael Haneke keeps sticking it to the bourgeoisie. In film after film he shows a superficially normal family and then burrows underneath to suggest the fragility of their privileged position and the intimations of unhappiness that the intrusion of reality will bring. If his almost unwatchable Funny Games did this with a grenade, Happy End is more like a stiletto between the ribs. Once withdrawn, the victim will bleed out.
Haneke is not known for his comedic side, but Happy End is of course a sly joke of a title. This family isn’t heading for a happy end any time soon, but the journey is absorbing. We follow the mis/fortunes of the wealthy Laurent family based near Calais. (The town which until recently was home to the so-called ‘Jungle’ shanty town full of desperate refugees.) The patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintigant playing a character who is a sort of a continuation of the one he played for Haneke in Amour), is in his mid-80s, fed up with life. If he could find a swift way to avoid the inevitable decline into senescence he would gladly do so. His tired eyes have seen it all. His daughter Anne (Haneke essential Isabelle Huppert) is trying to hold the family and the family firm together. She has to worry about her inept son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) who is entirely unsuited to taking over the company. Thomas has a thirteen-year-old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin giving a real calling card performance) by a previous marriage. The quietly dangerous Eve is as unhappy with the beginning of her life as her grandfather is with the end of his. Everyone in between is holding it together, just. Lots of little incidents combine to show the slow unravelling.
Once again Haneke’s masterly style – his deliberate use of minimal music, and slow takes and oddly long shot camera positions – serves him so well. Some might find this too austere and conclude that its auteur is a misanthrope but, for anyone who seriously wants to follow European (or world) cinema, and who is prepared to forgo easy answers, this is another haunting masterwork.