Isabelle Huppert, Fantine Harduin, Mathieu Kassovitz
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…this feels like an old dog doing the same tricks just with new toys.
Happy End has been marketed as the story of a middle-class family dealing with set-backs amidst the backdrop of a refugee crisis, however apart from a few brief news segments that play onscreen, there is little to no other connection to said crisis.
This is merely a series of empty exchanges between one family; unfortunately, many of which do very little to progress the narrative or reveal anything of much importance. Most of the film’s tension comes from one particular incident that involves the family business, but regardless, it seems that almost every character is dealing with their own unrelated personal issues.
Apart from the lack of narrative, the main problem here is that the characters aren’t particularly interesting. In fact, their only real defining characteristic is that they have money. We don’t spend enough time with any one of them to reveal their true motives, nor do we feel either good or bad about the actions they’re taking.
The cast are underutilised; particularly the likes of Isabelle Huppert, fresh from her Golden Globe-winning performance in Elle last year, and Toby Jones, who only features briefly. The most impressive performances come from youngster Fantine Harduin and veteran Jean-Louis Trintignant. Due to their respective ages, these characters are often neglected and left feeling alone in a family that is too self-absorbed to even notice.
Prolific Austrian director Michael Haneke recycles the filming techniques he’s become renowned for; long single-take tracking shots and those distant “fly on the wall” scenes, which are often inaudible – and while they’re still effective for the sake of storytelling, they don’t have the same “Wow” factor that they used to.
To balance that, Haneke has adopted modern technology such as mobile phones and social media dashboards to capture the day-to-day lives of these characters. While they’re cleverly used, it would have been far more interesting to highlight the more complicated and sinister inner-thoughts of all characters rather than just one or two.
Unfortunately for Haneke, even though he has tried something a little different, this feels like an old dog doing the same tricks just with new toys.