THREE STARS An upper-class French family has so many skeletons in the closet, they should open a cemetery.
Isabelle Huppert, Jean Louis Trintignant
DRAMA FRENCH LANGUAGE #HAPPYEND
Austria’s Michael Haneke doesn’t make things easy and HAPPY END is no exception. His sublime Oscar-winner AMOUR, a story about an elderly man loosing his wife to dementia, was about as accessible as he gets as a filmmaker, a harrowing experience that says it all. More often he fills his films with a very particular cruelty to make his points, such as the couple in HIDDEN who were terrorised by surveillance video tapes, or the couple in FUNNY GAMES who were terrorised by domestic intruders. There’s seldom much to laugh about and HAPPY END is more of the same: a searing indictment on privilege where happiness doesn’t get a look in.
A wealthy family in Calais runs in to business trouble, an event that becomes a back drop to internal troubles of their own. For a start, the family’s wheel-chair bound patriarch is loosing his mind and is determined to rope in anyone who will help him commit suicide: his barber, passing migrants, even his son’s daughter. His own daughter (Isabelle Huppert) is struggling to keep the business afloat while her son is inadvertently dragging it down. Her brother’s ex-wife is in a coma, he’s having an affair, his daughter is in on the deceit and all the while their house-staff are treated like commodities, if not slaves. So far, so soap-opera.
In many ways, HAPPY END is unapologetically a soap opera, albeit a rarified, art-house version; and in the way that such stories tend to wobble uncertainly around undefined themes, so too does Haneke’s film. He’s taking shots at many of his favourite targets - the brittle bourgeois, the refugee crisis - yet doesn’t come all that clean on what he’s trying to say. Surprisingly for the director, this is more a film of scenes and vignettes than a cohesive whole, and it’s a frustrating one at that. Not that it isn’t engaging, it is, right to the draw-dropping end. His compelling sense of frame, pace and construction sees to that. But come that final scene you’re left wondering what, beyond the obvious, all the fuss is about.