Happy End (2017)

Review #1,569

Director:  Michael Haneke
Cast:  Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Toby Jones
Plot:  A drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  107 mins
Rating:  NC16 (passed clean) for some sexual material and language
International Sales:  Les Films du Losange
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

It has been the longest wait for a new Michael Haneke film—five years to be exact since 2012’s Amour.  But any new work from one of the masters of contemporary arthouse cinema is always worth the wait, and certainly worth seeing.  Happy End, which premiered at Cannes (a festival that has bestowed the Austrian filmmaker twice with its top prize, the Palme d’Or), sees Haneke attempting to find his unique voice to comment on our modern, technological society.  His observations, depressing as they are, reveal nothing new, at least in the context of his body of work.  We are not any more different now than we were 10, 20 years back; we certainly have evolved technologically, but we still always disappoint ourselves.  

While Happy End is about the contemporaneous, one could glean from Haneke’s previous films, in particular Benny’s Video (1992) and Cache (2005), for a richer appreciation of the themes that he is trying to express, even if they don’t quite come across as typically succinct in his latest work when muddled with subthemes of racism and European immigration.  Forming the third installment of what I propose to call his Trilogy of Trace, Happy End tackles existential apathy, woes of modern living, and obsessions with mediated interfaces, through the myriad of stories of individuals belonging to an upper-class family.  

Isabelle Huppert plays Anne Laurent, who runs the family’s lucrative construction business.  She lives with her elderly father, brother and his wife, and her own adult son.  One day, Eve, her brother’s daughter (Fantine Harduin in a terrific performance) from a previous marriage, comes to live with them.  It’s difficult to describe any more of the film’s plotting, because it is unimportant insofar as it ultimately contributes to a null narrative.  True to the director’s approach, there’s no real story, but of life itself, brutalised and bastardised by the failure of humans to grasp at its very meaning.  

Ignorance is bliss for these characters.  And Eve, so young but devoid of innocence, finds that life is so much more sensational—or is it mundane—through the lens of her camera phone.  Like Benny’s Video and Cache, and perhaps even Funny Games (1997), video recordings capture traces of life—and its impending doom, creating visual diaries of Man’s darkest deeds.  Haneke wants us to know that if we aren’t careful, we could be walking nonchalantly toward our obliteration.  

Verdict:  Haneke’s attempt to find his singular voice in our modern, technological society feels uncannily familiar, though the film’s numerous themes don't quite come across as typically succinct.




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