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Happy End review - grimly compelling but to what end? | reviews, news & interviews

Happy End review - grimly compelling but to what end?

Happy End review - grimly compelling but to what end?

Isabelle Huppert is in feral form but Michael Haneke's latest risks self-parody

Guess who: the cast of 'Happy End' get some unexpected visitors

No movie that folds Toby Jones of all people into a Gallic entourage headed by Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, the two as formidable as one might wish, is going to be without interest.

Nor is it likely that the ever-severe Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke would title something Happy End without irony coursing from every pore.

But the bizarre fact of the matter is that for all its grimly compelling goings-on, the latest from the auteur creator of Amour, Funny Games and others risks sending itself up. You can't look away as the motley assemblage on view do devious or difficult things to one another and themselves, but you may be wondering afterwards what was the point. I assume Haneke here intends a barbed political commentary on gathering European insularity in our grievous times. And yet, the movie's worthier passages register far less strongly than the familial rancour that at times looks as if it might swallow the knottily disturbed Laurent family (pictured below) whole. A climactic scene takes place at a gala engagement meal that is gatecreashed by the very migrant community towards whom the Calais-dwelling Laurents turn a heedless (or, at best, patronising) eye. They're too busy instead cheating on one another or figuring out how best to bump various relations off. The exception on that front is the ageing paterfamilias, Georges (Trintignant), who would like to end his own life and soon, please, as evidenced in a mordantly funny sequence in which he takes furiously to the streets in a wheelchair in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve that goal. 

Trintignant and Huppert played father and daughter previously in Amour, a film about meeting one's maker to which Happy End could well mark a de facto if tonally contrasting sequel. Snarling at those brave enough to come near him, Georges saves what residue of familial interest he still possesses for his 13-year-old granddaughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin), who looks herself to be the kind of adolescent in whose care you might not leave a newborn baby. (Guess what: Eve ends up doing precisely that.)

Gifted in the act of poison, Eve casts an indrawn, sombre mood across a narrative that sends any number of transgressions her way. Many of those, in turn, are the province of her adulterous father (Mathieu Kassovitz, looking exhausted), a surgeon whose computer becomes an object of keen inquiry for his techno-savvy if essentially loveless daughter. 

By way of contrast, we get the rabid intensity of feeling expressed by businesswoman Anne (Huppert, right) toward her handsome if emotionally hobbled son (the German actor-dancer Franz Rogowski), who provides the wake-up call to conscience in the final reel. In a film smitten with the often-cryptic long shot, Haneke zooms in time and again on Huppert, and why not? This actress registers her own, singular force field of feeling, whether dealing with a tragic accident at work or pulling her son close to her like one of the neoclassical heroines whom she has played onstage. Doing their bit for the banking community, not to mention England, are David Yelland and, yes, Toby Jones, the second of whom plays Anne's fiancé while looking slightly bemused all the while. I don't know if Haneke has in mind a further film where we encounter the miscreant Eve in later life, but, if so, I wouldn't be surprised by then to discover that Jones's character has flown the coop. 

A climactic scene takes place at a gala meal gatecrashed by the very migrant community towards whom the Calais-dwelling Laurent family turn a heedless eye


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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