The Movie Waffler New Release Review - HAPPY END | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - HAPPY END

happy end haneke review
A disturbed young girl is sent to live with her extended family.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Haneke

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden, Toby Jones

happy end haneke poster

Michael Haneke appears to be mellowing in his old age. His latest, Happy End, is the closest the Germanic shockmeister has ever come to making a movie you could watch with your grandmother. Nobody gets murdered or euthanised on screen, and nobody slits their throats in graphic detail. It's also the first Haneke movie you may find yourself yawning through.

Despite the toning down of the nastiness you might expect, Happy End is instantly recognisable as a Haneke film, so much so that it plays like one of those 'clips' episodes of a TV show, like the time Riker fell into a coma and relived the entirety of the first season of Star Trek: TNG. Like Benny's Video, it features a killing caught on camera, but this time the victim is a gerbil rather than a human. The deed is filmed by 12-year-old Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin), who then goes on to poison her mother with an overdose of sleeping tablets, confining her to a hospital bed.

happy end haneke

Eve is subsequently sent to live at the Calais home of her wealthy grandfather, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), where also resides her aunt Anne (Isabelle Huppert), her uncle Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his wife Anais (Laura Verlinden), and her cousin Pierre (Vincent Gallo lookalike Franz Rogowski).

As you might expect, the Laurents aren't the most well-rounded bunch. Pierre is an alcoholic who tortures himself over his class privilege. Thomas is having an affair with a cellist, the two lovers secretly exchanging graphic messages online (forcing us to watch text on screen for far too much of Happy End's runtime). Though seemingly in fine health for his age, Georges is desperate for someone to put him out of his misery, as he claims to have done for his late wife. This latter detail suggests Trintignant is playing the same character as in Haneke's previous film, Amour, though paradoxically, Huppert is playing a different character here (a twin sister perhaps?) - make of that what you will.

happy end haneke

For a change, it's Huppert who plays the most stable character here, balancing filling in as the Laurent matriarch with running her father's construction business, which faces legal trouble following an industrial accident that claims the life of a worker. Seen tucking in children and giving warm hugs, Anne Laurent is that rare Haneke character you wouldn't mind having over for dinner.

Haneke indulges in some class commentary here, with the industrial negligence subplot rehashing a  moment from Cache in which a confrontation between a well meaning upper class man and a troubled working class counterpart erupts in violence. Of course, the Calais setting brings its backdrop of immigrants treading the town's streets as they await opportunities to sneak over the channel, but nothing is explicitly made of this scenario.

happy end haneke

And there's not a whole lot more to Happy End. On paper it resembles one of those family melodramas that were so popular in the '50s, and which later inspired those mega soaps of the '80s, Dallas and Dynasty, but there's a notable lack of melodrama here. It could also be compared to one of Todd Solondz' twisted family sagas, but with none of the uncomfortable humour Solondz is known for. Instead we're left to watch a group of frankly uninteresting rich people go about their day to day lives, while the presence of a 12-year-old sociopath adds some cheap tension whenever we see her left alone with her infant cousin or her grandfather, who tries to coerce her into assisting his suicide.

The German-born filmmaker has always been a divisive figure, and even within his own filmography I find myself torn between labeling him a genius (The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon) and a fraud (Funny Games and its US remake). It's difficult to imagine anyone having a passionate response, whether positive or negative, to Happy End however.

Happy End is in UK/ROI cinemas and streaming exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema December 1st.