Happy End (2017)
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Haneke's portrayal of a French bourgeois family is extremely dark. The grandfather wants to kill himself, the son is exchanging kinky chat sessions with someone who is not his wife, the grandson is a spoiled brat with a low self-esteem, and the twelve year old granddaughter is an angel-faced scoundrel. Only Anne, the daughter who runs the family business, is relatively normal.
The film opens with homemade smartphone video images, followed by images from a surveillance camera. It's Haneke's way of keeping distance from his characters: he is merely the observer. This is also emphasized by several scenes in which the camera registers the events from a distance. It's all typical Haneke, as well as the elongated scenes in which not much happens. Haneke doesn't make it easy for the audience: in the first half of the film, the scenes don't really seem to be related, only after a while things become more clear.
In some films by Haneke, these style elements work well and add value to the story. But in 'Happy End', it feels like they have become Haneke trademarks just for the sake of it. They're not drawing the viewer into the film but instead creating a barrier, preventing a full appreciation of it.
Still, if you're ready to get over some cinematographic hurdles, this can be a very rewarding film. Perhaps some elements are a bit too much, but at least it doesn't leave you indifferent.
The film launches you into the various machinations of a construction company owning upper middle class family. Sexualised internet messages from people having affairs, phone camera's voyeuristically recording someone's mother as she passes from intimate daily routines through to the anonymous and almost impersonalised death throes of the character. These moments are designed to actively engage your brain right from the outset as you start to try and construct the narrative gaps. However they also serve, mirroring Haneke's 1992 film "Benny's Video", to show the distancing effect of technology on real human interaction and the almost sociopathic impact that this technology has on people's minds.
The film places us at the centre of a successful, cultured and beautiful family headed by a grandfather sinking towards dementia, brilliantly played by Jean Louis Trintignant who at 87 may have delivered here his greatest performance since the "Conformist". As we move behind this facade we see a son, played by Mathieu Kassovitz , who is a care giving doctor in his daily life but someone who does not know how to love or give genuine care to his own family, a man who is at his most alive typing out his sexual fantasies on facebook messenger. There is an austere daughter, played by the greatest screen actress of her generation Isabelle Huppert, who is the cold steel holding the family construction business together. There is the troubled grandson, Huppert's son, played by Franz Rogowski, physically imperfect and hence doomed to failure. Then there is the sweet looking granddaughter, brilliantly played Fantine Harduin, who delivers an astonishing performance for a 12 year old, who has been so tainted by this dysfunctional family and by the her constant reliance upon a version of life that is one step removed from reality by her phone video camera that she can barely grasp the fundamental morals of reality. Yet tragically all that she wants is to be loved and to belong.
There are the house servants of North African origin and the mongrel family dog, always filmed from the outside looking in and reduced to taking it's frustration out on the lowest ranking member of the household, the cooks daughter. Perhaps representing a world where the disenfranchised have their hatred misdirected to other struggling people rather than focussing upon those who are really responsible for their difficulties.
This is a living breathing world trapped inside the problems of the current day. Where migrants are forced to leave their homes, not for economic reasons but because their family members have been burnt alive by fundamentalist Muslims, Muslim extremists funded by Trump's fossil fuel buddies the Saudi Arabians and subtly referenced by the oil rigs shown in the film. A time and place where the simple physical presence of these dark skinned people at a gleaming white wedding serves to show the profound contrast in these people's lives. A world where Brexit is serving to disrupt the relationship between England and France (hence the inclusion of the English speaking character played by Toby Jones). A world where everything is contractual and where an ordinary working man's life is worth 35,000 Euro's and the compensation for a dog bite on a North African child is the remnants of a box of chocolates.
A brilliantly crafted film where every second seems to be perfectly judged, from intimate interiors to a terrific exterior tracking shot of the suicidal family patriarch, but keeping us as distanced observers, inviting us to actually THINK not consume. A film where every interior, every wardrobe choice seems to be casually perfect. Inside this coruscating study of an upper middle class family Mr Haneke has produced a time capsule of the difficulties of living in a world where the richest 1% have as much wealth as the next 99% of people of the world and where the news media and impersonalising, isolating influence of social media drives us to misunderstand issues and to hate the rest of the 99%. A film with a happy ending for one of the characters, and one that I have to say I found highly amusing, and an ending that reinforces that the rich can literally get away with murder.
We open on an unknown kid's secretive cell phone video filming of her mother getting ready for bed, followed by the mistreatment of a pet hamster as a lab rat, and finally video of her mother passed out on the sofa - just prior to an ambulance being called. Our attention is then turned to a family estate in Calais, which is inhabited by the octogenarian patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintigant), his doctor son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert), Anne's malcontent son Pierre (Franz Rogowski), Thomas' wife and infant son, and the Moroccan couple who are household servants. While her mother is being treated for an overdose, 13 year old Eve (Fantine Harduin), moves in to the estate (Thomas is her re-married father). It's here that we learn the opening scenes were Eve's video work ... clearly establishing her as a damaged soul.
Initially, it seems as though we will see the family through Eve's eye, but what follows instead is the peeling back of family layers exposing the darkness and menace that haunts each of these characters. Georges appears to be intent on finding a way out of the life that has imprisoned his body and is now slowly taking his mind through dementia. Thomas is carrying on an illicit affair through raunchy email exchanges. Anne is trying to protect the family construction business from the incompetence of her son Pierre, while also looking for love with solicitor Toby Jones. At times, we are empathetic towards Eve's situation, but as soon as we let down our guard, her true colors emerge. The film is certainly at its best when Ms. Harduin's Eve is front and center. Her scene with her grandfather Georges uncovers their respective motivators, and is chilling and easily the film's finest moment.
The film was a Cannes Palme d'Or nominee, but we sense that was in respect to Mr. Haneke's legacy, and not for this particular film. The disjointed pieces lack the necessary mortar, or even a linking thread necessary for a cohesive tale. What constitutes a happy end ... or is one even possible? Perhaps that's the theme, but the film leaves us with a feeling of incompleteness - or perhaps Haneke just gave up trying to find such an ending, and decided commentary on the "bourgeois bubble" was sufficient.
Anyway, this film here has nothing on Amour, which is a genuine masterpiece in my opinion and it's also way weaker than "The White Ribbon" in my opinion. It's an okay family drama overall and a decent character study about everybody involved and Haneke once again proves how strong he is as the few moments when he goes a bit over the top still don't keep this film from being very authentic. The acting is good too all around. Trintignant shines once again, but I may be biased as I like him a lot and think he should have won the Oscar for Amour already. Another pretty positive surprise is Fantine Harduin and she was really good here, could have a bright career ahead if she decides to take the actress path. Back to Haneke, this is maybe one of his most provocative works. When he kills the hamster early on, most audience members feel really bad for the animal, but almost nobody feels bad for the woman in the background basically suffering the same tragic fate. The reason in my opinion is that we know the woman did not die really, but the animal did and I just cannot approve of that. I think Haneke is a really great filmmaker, but this recurring theme from is films is just wrong. Another provocative scene is when the son brings these Black men to the party as many in the audience maybe thought oh these are the ones the old man asked earlier to kill him right? Especially when the old man quickly decides to leave the occasion. But I think it is not. But it adds salt to the wound that to Whites Blacks do look the same. At least I interpreted this scene like that. So yes, overall it wasn't a bad watch, even if it was inferior to Haneke's 2 most recent other works, clearly inferior in fact. But as this one offers a lot to discuss too (as always with Haneke thanks to the depth in his films and characters), I'd give it a ***/*****, but I have to remove one star because of the hamster scene at the very start. The "no animals were harmed" part during the closing credits should also apply to Haneke. I mean it's not like the son was really beaten up that one scene (i.e. the actor), but why not do that too if he lets his animals even do method acting in terms of life and death and I am not saying any actors should really get killed (absolutely not!), but the animal violence/killing part, even if it is for the art of cinema, is just wrong and ultimately has me giving this film a thumbs-down. Don't watch.
The movie is nothing but depressing and has no happy ending with the story of a french family of wealth and standing demonstrating how seriously screwed up you can be.
I found the cuts between scene's annoying in some places with the previous scene introducing an event ever so briefly, for it not to happen or relate to the next scene or referred to again.
In someways the movie was too long with too many scene's used to make a longer movie.
With all this said it is though well worth seeing, with the final scene a cracker!