By Jeevin Johal
VANCOUVER – Following up his devastatingly emotional and gorgeous 2012 Palme D’or winning film Amour, Director Michael Hanake returns with his latest theatrical release, Happy End. The ironically titled film follows the inevitable decline of the Laurent family; a seemingly cohesive family unit forced to deal with the repercussions of years of destructive behaviour, as personal dramas and indiscretions are exposed.
For decades, the Laurents have worked at forging an empire in the construction business, but after a negligent accident on a construction site threatens their bourgeois lifestyle with a potential civil suit, their morals are put into question. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) the addled, suicide fuelled Patriarch has passed on his legacy to daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert), who is left to clean up the mess caused by her agitated, alcoholic son Pierre (Franz Rogoski), while simultaneously becoming romantically involved with her lawyer. Meanwhile Anne’s surgeon brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), who has just had a baby with his wife Anais (Laura Verdlinden) is having an affair with a Cellist, while also attempting to repair a damaged relationship with Eve (Fantine Haduin), his thirteen year old daughter from a previous marriage.
Through the eyes of Eve’s smartphone, we witness her sociopathic behaviour boil to the surface of the film. Her calm demeanor and diseased emotional state represent the culmination of generations of poor behaviour and emotional abuse caused by the Laurent family. Hanake remains unsympathetic to his characters, and with Eve at the forefront of the film, uses her as a tool to punish his characters for their past.
Set amongst the European refugee crisis, Hanake comments extensively on the effects of colonialism. Unable to tend to all of the needs required of a family dynasty, the Laurents house a young family of Moroccan servants who are subtly, yet very noticeably, chastised for being of a lower class. Hanake jabs at the family’s sheer inability to comprehend poverty and hardship throughout Happy End, forcing them into situations that blatantly unveil their ignorance.
Though you may feel compelled to awkwardly laugh at moments in the film, it remains pure, unsettling Haneke. Secrets are unveiled through computer and phone screens; a visual motif common in Hakene’s work in films such as Cache. Static wide shots cause discomfort as the audience is forced to voyeuristically examine the motives of characters in scenes where dialogue can’t be heard, and there is no score to fill in the space. Like so many of Hanake’s films, it will make you cringe.
Happy End may not be as impactful or as accolade worthy as some of his previous films, but Haneke continues to distort classic cinematic techniques to create a demonic soap opera of callous characters. He remains unapologetic to both them and his audience, continuing to perfect his often disturbing storytelling and style, further solidifying his status as a fearless Auteur of contemporary European cinema.VIFF