Review: Happy End

5 February 2018

Happy End is Austrian director Michael Haneke’s 13th film. You’d think by now he would have exhausted all areas, and perhaps you’d be right. His newest movie appears scattered and overstuffed with unworked ideas, and has no clear focal point, bar the broad and tired message about the flawed upper class.

The film follows the Laurents, an upper class family that live a pleasant and comfortable existence of bourgeois idealism in Northern France. Then, slowly, but not unpredictably, Haneke exposes deeper, and darker truths, punctuated by social injustices and family conflict. Finally, the film reveals the secrets hidden by each of our protagonists, which immerse the film with a thick grimness, like a humourless black comedy. The ensemble cast, which includes Haneke regulars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, occupy their roles with ease and play them out with perfect realism.

Haneke’s trademark obsession with emotional objectivity is ever-present, and as usual, the camera is distant and never involved, accompanied by a complete absence of non-diagetic music. Here in the camerawork he remains ethically impartial, but as is implicit in the creation of all fiction, Haneke is forced to take a subjective role, and attempts to deliver a message, which throughout most of the film, is flimsy and confused.

In less than two hours, Haneke covers infidelity, suicide and murder. There are smaller crimes too—he scrambles over an esoteric but unrelated range of concerns, including but not limited to: a few disturbing perversions; the migrant crisis in Calais; the apathy of the rich; the tragedy of accident; the inability to love; and even the idiocy of video-making tweens. The entire plot of Haneke’s 2012 masterpiece, Amour, is summarised in a brief spoken anecdote, before the dialogue turns to childhood sadism and the cruelty of nature, touching briefly on the alienation of televised tragedies—all in a single conversation. Some of Happy End’s scenes, and even the narrative, seem to serve very little purpose, other than to extend its runtime.

That said, the last shot might be enough to redeem the film. In the end, Haneke seems to point out one final, and very striking crime: the hypocrisy of the filmmaker. For once, he doesn’t disparage the viewing audience, but instead turns the camera on himself, exposing the faults of the one behind the lens, be it that of a movie camera, or an iPhone. The last shot is truly something, like a punchline to a longwinded joke; the story is easily forgotten, but that last brief statement: inescapable. Worthy of trudging through the entire dislocated, messy, baffling film. Hence the title.

Happy End will be in cinemas February 8.

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