A oui bit cold and cruel

by Martin McNamara

THERE’S no love lost in this bitterly dark satire from acclaimed director Michael Haneke.
Happy End (Cert 15A, 107 mins) is set against the Calais refugee crisis, although unfolding as it does around the drama of an upper-middle class family, you’d be forgiven for overlooking the factual backdrop.

Targeting the apathy and deep-seated indifference of higher society, Haneke revisits the thematic threads that have linked all his work – actually, Happy End is a sequel of sorts to the Oscar-winning Amour (2012), which was also nabbed the Palme D’Or at Cannes, Haneke’s second time securing the prestigious award.

However, as much as it works through the Austrian director’s preferred subjects – racial tension, social apathy, familial strife, suicide and euthanasia (hefty subjects, to say the least) – Happy End is also, shockingly enough, a wickedly funny film.

Those familiar with Haneke’s work may indeed be astounded; his is an oeuvre that rarely takes time to offer any humour.
Here, one can’t help but laugh at the trivial dramas of contemporary European affluence in the midst of an era-defining crisis.

Jean-Louis Trintingent and Isabelle Huppert return to the father-daughter roles they portrayed in Amour: retired construction magnate Georges Laurent and his daughter Anne, who now runs the company.
While George struggles with depression and suggested dementia, Anne battles with her wayward son, Pierre (Franz Rogowoski), who is also battling his own demons.
Amidst this drama, Anne’s brother, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), who also lives with them in their huge Calais mansion, takes over the care of his somewhat estranged pre-teen daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin).

Eve, we learn in the film’s prologue (covertly filmed with a smart phone camera), has secretly poisoned her mother with sedatives, who is now in a coma.
With all the twisted soap opera dramatics, we rarely give thought to the humanitarian crisis going on down the road.

However, as the narrative unfolds, Haneke lets the real-world drama slowly seep through the cracks in the Laurent family’s mundane existence – a gradual, damning condemnation of what we as a society often choose to ignore in favour of more trivial endeavours.

Stylistically, Happy End is textbook Haneke – the director’s favoured long takes, wide angles and sudden, violent cuts are all here with his trademark, unwavering camera eye. As always, we invade the day-to-day of family life as a voyeur, observing the drama from doorways, around corners and from the opposite ends of hallways.

Here, however, Haneke also chooses to frame his narrative with an abundance of technological devices – CCTV footage, smartphone cameras and computer screens.
Consequently, any possibility of intimacy is denied to the viewer; Happy End is perhaps Haneke’s coldest, most detached project yet, even if it offers a whole lot more humour and a great deal less violence (don’t worry, there’s a bit of that here too).

The cast of Haneke stalwarts and newcomers pull plenty of humanity and depth into the family’s shallow existence – Huppert and Trintingent are terrific, as usual; newcomer Fantine Harduin shines as a young, burgeoning sociopath.

Expertly crafted, brilliantly acted, disturbing, cynical, hilarious and often shocking, Happy End stops just short of being another masterpiece for Haneke.

Those familiar with the director’s work will often feel like they’re retreading familiar territory – still, when the journey’s as visually pleasing and brutally gratifying as this, who cares?
Verdict: 9/10

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