Directed by Michael Haneke
Country: France / Austria / Germany
German writer-director Michael Haneke earned cult status with gut-wrenching dramas such as “The Seventh Continent”, “The Piano Teacher”, “The White Ribbon”, and “Amour”. In his most recent work, sarcastically entitled “Happy End”, he addresses depression and suicidal tendencies as he depicts a French middle-class family, at the same time that faintly glances at the European migrant crisis. The story is loosely tied to the Oscar-winner “Amour”, which, like this one, also starred Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant as daughter and father.
Its premise, smartly steeped in technology, shows us an absorbing sequence of images recorded on a smartphone. At first, we see a woman being filmed while in the bathroom, and then unconscious due to a mysterious drug poisoning. Afterward, that overdose is transferred to a hamster, which ends up stiff in his cage, intoxicated with anti-depressives. The author of the videos is Eve (Fantine Harduin), a 13-year-old who, even admitting her guilt in both cases, never passes the sensation of evil or darkness. With her mother in the hospital, she is going to live with her estranged father, Thomas Laurent (Mathieu Kassovitz), his new wife, Anais (Laura Verlinden), and their baby.
However, the camera turns momentarily to Anne Laurent (Huppert), Eve’s aunt, a divorced workaholic who has to keep an eye on her demented octogenarian father, George (Trintignan), and her demotivated son Pierre (Franz Rogowski), who is facing a drinking problem. While Thomas is a well-established doctor, Anne and Pierre run the family business, a construction company in Calais that has been going through serious financial difficulties. Their disquietude associated with rescuing the company expands into a panic when a dangerous landslide occurs in one of the construction sites they were operating, causing a worker to be injured.
The emotional turmoils arrive from many fronts. Pierre is not getting better, feeling useless and ashamed of himself and attracting trouble in every move; Eve is becoming as much depressive as her mother was and finds out that his father is having an extramarital affair with a cellist; after eluding his caregiver Rachid (Hassam Ghancy), George flees from home in a car to commit suicide, but the best he can do is restraint, even more, his moves by becoming wheelchair-bound. He’s a stubborn man, though, and will study other ways that could make him end his sufferable existence. The only 'normal' situation seems to be Anne’s engagement with a British lawyer, Lawrence Bradshaw (Toby Jones).
The scenario is ideal for Haneke’s wry observations, who depicts the usual emotional fissures and inner sufferance with a disarming dark humor that keeps the film on its feet, even in the most strained situations.
The aesthetic maturity of the static long-shots don’t compromise the emotional strength of the tale, but rather compensate the numerous close-ups that intended to dig deep into the characters’ broken souls.
While the ridiculously funny finale is quite clever, pumping up a film that had fallen in drowsiness for a while, the ultimate confessions and empathic understanding between granddaughter and grandfather is, perhaps, the most questionable scene of the film.
Even familiar in tone and less effective than Haneke's previous material, “Happy End” feels destructive inside out, and the Austrian helmer shows it with a sardonic artistic touch.