Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Franz Rogowski
Watch Happy End online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
Stone cold Austrian Michael Haneke returns with this darkly satirical French drama that explores and reworks all the familiar themes from his previous movies. Indeed, anyone thinking that the chilly maestro might have warmed up a bit after 2012’s Amour can rest assured that Happy End finds him back on familiarly misanthropic territory.
Haneke’s films often involve an element of puzzle-solving, of piecing together the necessary information from the smallest of clues, and so it proves here, as the film opens with a secretly-filmed Snapchat sequence (including disparaging comments) of a woman getting ready for bed that will only reveal its true significance later on. Two subsequent sequences have a similar air of mystery – the first (probably, we suspect, from the same source) has a young girl experimenting on her hamster by giving it her mum’s anti-depressants; and the second, apparently unrelated, is security camera footage of a workplace accident on a construction site, where the entire side of a pit collapses.
The connection between them comes into focus, as we learn that real-estate developer Anne Laurant (Isabelle Huppert) has inherited the construction company from her getting-close-to-senile 84 year-old father, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and the negligence of her idiot son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), may have caused the accident and exposed the company to a damaging lawsuit.
Meanwhile, in the Calais home shared by the entire Laurant family, Anne’s twice-married brother, Thomas (Mathieu Kassowitz), brings home his 12 year-old daughter, Ève (Fantine Harduin), to live with them, after her mother is hospitalised following a suspected overdose. And when she bonds with her grand-father, Georges suspects he might have found the right candidate to help him end his life.
Happy End works best as a sort of Haneke Greatest Hits package, recycling and updating multiple themes and concerns from his previous films, in a way that seems deliberately designed to play to his fans. Particularly notable are the obsession with technology and surveillance from Benny’s Video, here updated from VHS to smartphones and the Internet; the racial suspicion of Code Unknown; the revenge nightmare from Hidden; the euthanasia theme from Amour (which also featured Trintignant and Huppert as father and daughter, suggesting a sequel of sorts), as well as more general themes of family dysfunction and the obliviousness of the well-to-do towards immigrants – it’s no coincidence that the film takes place in Calais, yet never once shows the Migrant Jungle.
The performances are excellent, across the board. Huppert is as wonderful as always as Anne, while Trintignant has a good line in cantankerousness and Kassovitz is good as the distracted dad who seriously underestimates his daughter. There’s also strong support from Britain’s own Toby Jones (as Anne’s British fiancé) and Rogowski has a brilliant scene where he drunkenly performs a karaoke version of Sia’s Chandelier. However, the stand-out performance belongs to Fantine Harduin as Eve, and there’s a certain amount of pleasure to be had in the way information gradually clicks into place with her character.
Throughout, Haneke’s cold, distancing direction pays great dividends, particularly in scenes that unfold without dialogue, such as a sequence involving Trintignant talking to some migrant workers, another scene that only clicks into place much later on. As for that title? Haneke pulls off an excruciating, blackly comic set piece to end the film that delivers the perfect happy end for us, if not the characters.
Happy End is available in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.