Michael Haneke’s latest offering, Happy End, is far from the simplistic joy-ride suggested by its title. This is a dark film, but one played out with a distance that consistently masks its underlying horror.
Following multiple generations of a dysfunctional middle-class family in Calais, Haneke explores issues of adultery, responsibility and euthanasia. Happy End is, however, imbued with sparks of humour throughout – interweaving with the subject matter to craft a captivating tone.
The film begins with a series of lengthy phone-camera shots, slowly building up to the hospitalisation of one of the Laurent family’s central figures. Despite getting an insight into this event, its underlying motivation remains unclear throughout. Haneke never provides the audience with a clear look at this character, accentuating the sense of unease. These uncomfortable opening shots sets a precedent for the film in structure as well as tone.
Happy End is constructed with naturalistic, overlong takes, which work to varying degrees of success. While troubled-son Pierre’s rendition of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ is both electrifyingly and painfully hilarious, a take of one character queueing up for an ice-lolly is somewhat less so.
The acting in Happy End is fantastic, including veteran actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and recent Oscar-nominee Isabelle Huppert. 12-year-old Harduin especially impresses, matching her more experienced castmates with an emotionally ambiguous portrayal of the youngest member of the Laurent clan.
Happy End is not the director’s best, with the distance between character and audience running the risk of leaving those viewers cold, regardless of its purpose in constructing the film’s overall tone. However, Michael Haneke’s latest addition to his repertoire is another success – fascinatingly analysing the darker sides of the human condition.