Happy End film review: Michael Haneke revisits his favourite themes in familiar tale of familial discord
Palme d’Or-winning Austrian director Haneke returns with a drama about a wealthy Calais-based family set against the backdrop of the European refugee crisis, but it feels more like a series of outtakes from his more significant films
Michael Haneke’s greatest hits? That’s what the Austrian auteur’s latest film Happy End feels like.
With nods to everything from his 1992 film Benny’s Video to his previous movie, the Palme d’Or-winning Amour, Happy End is likely to make viewers come away with a distinct feeling of déjà vu, as Haneke once again tackles themes of bourgeois complacency and familial discord.
A great director returning to perennial themes is, on the surface, no bad thing. But Happy End feels a minor work in Haneke’s canon, like a collection of outtakes from his more significant films.
The focus is on a wealthy Calais-based family, the Laurents, headed by wheelchair-bound patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Curiously, he seems like an echo of Trintignant’s character in Amour, not least because his wife died under the same circumstances.
Is Haneke playing a game? Maybe. Others in the family include Georges’ daughter, the divorcee Anne (Isabelle Huppert, in another Amour reference), who runs the family construction firm. Then there is her philandering brother Thomas (Matthieu Kassovitz), on his second marriage and forced to make time for his daughter after her mother – his ex-wife – takes an overdose.
Cracks start to appear as the family is forced to deal with some major financial issues, but Happy End never contains the same fireworks seen in Haneke’s earlier works. The most violent act is the snapping of a finger in the film’s intriguing finale at Anne’s engagement party to her financier fiancé Lawrence (Toby Jones). Think of this more as a dark and bitter soap opera.
Those seeking Haneke’s precise framing and trademark long shots will find them here, with the camera like a bystander in the corner, quietly observing the action. What Haneke doesn’t do in any significant way is unpick the migrant issue that flooded Calais. Perhaps that’s the point: this family is so insular they barely acknowledge a massive human crisis on their doorstep.
Happy End opens on June 21
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