You know that with a Michael Haneke film, if it has an up-beat title it's going to be heavily ironic. And so here too - though it's not so much a case of there being an 'end' as we being left to ask "So what happened next?"
The Austrian Haneke is one of the small handful of directors whose films I'd actively go out of my way to see, though we don't always get the chance to view his creations. Those we do have an opportunity at are tantalisingly enigmatic, usually deeply unsettling on some level, and always significant. Those films of his that I have seen - 'Cache', 'The Piano Teacher', 'The White Ribbon', 'Amour' - linger in my mind more than those of just about all other contemporary directors. However, his 'Funny Games' (1997) has seared itself in my consciousness as one of the most disturbingly horrifying films I've ever seen, though with all the violence (and there's a fair bit of it) taking place off-screen! (I refer to the original German-language version, not the American re-make of ten years later, also directed by Haneke, which I haven't seen). Twenty years later, 'Funny Games' still haunts me.
Back to 'Happy End' which is set in Calais, on the northernmost French coast (the location is significant).
A multi-generational upper-class family is drawn through various circumstances to live together uneasily, prominent among which is Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, businesswoman-owner of a construction company, with troubled 13-year old daughter (correction: the girl is actually Huppert's neice. Thanks due to Rachel for her comment below) who has hacked into her father's computer account and is reading sexually- charged exchanges he's having with his new lover. Several members of this extended family make suicide attempts for varying reasons, not all having the same level of 'success'. One of them is the advance-aged grandfather who feels his time is up and wants to end his life, despite his family thwarting his attempts. Other family members have their own secrets and inter-familial frictions. So far so jolly! The only non-French member of the cast is Toby Jones as an English family acquaintance, he also being the only one whose few scenes are in English, the rest of the film being, of course, in the Gallic tongue.
For some episodes, Haneke employs his trademark technique of showing a scene between players from a distance, out of ear-shot, we only being aware of the gestures of the actors, some of it argumentative, confrontational and, in one case here, violent. We don't know why or what was said - and it's often left unexplained. We are left to join the dots ourselves. But the method is always intriguing and it kept me hooked.
I ought also to mention that if there are any viewers of this as hyper-sensitive to the suffering of animals as I am, the film is preceded by a 10-min 'essay' on Haneke's methods, which includes brief shots of a few animals being killed, and though lasting maybe just one minute, I had to look away. When the film 'proper' starts the very opening shot is of a harmless little hamster being deliberately poisoned. Nothing else similar happens in the rest of the film. Hardly worth mentioning for some, I'm sure, but it did start me off on an uncomfortable footing.
I think the general consensus is that 'Happy End' may ultimately be not quite as remarkable as some of the director's other films. Nevertheless, despite my accepting that its lack of a clear conclusion might well infuriate some of its audience, as is the case with all the rest of Haneke's films which I've seen, I always feel that he delivers ones money's worth, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of other directors around today..................7.
5 hours ago