Happy End, written and directed by Michael Haneke
Since Happy End is a film by the extraordinary, mesmerizing film maker Michael Haneke, audiences know that this will be challenging, thought provoking, deep, complex, out of the ordinary, with (very?) dark incursions into the human psyche, meditations on the most important themes- love, death –more recently there seems to be a heavier emphasis on the latter- relationships between people, traumas and in the case of this particular feature, issues like emigration, euthanasia, opposition between rich and poor, hardcore internet dialogue- which seems to be called “sexting”.
From the very first few themes, we seem to witness, if not an outright attack on social media, the current obsession with posting everything on the net, selfies and information on the brushing of teeth we are doing, special meals that we enjoy –and others do not, as critics of these self-indulgent habits point out- even the peeing, as is the case of this introductory chapter.
One could also think that the consequent few scenes- filmed with the phone, the screen is divided in the specific manner for that recording instrument-are Haneke archetypes, in the sense that there is a violence- perhaps criticized- directed this time against a poor pet, a hamster which is given to eat some antidepressant pills that kill it- maybe “violence” should be corrected, for he dies without commotion, but it still feels cruel.
The “hero” of the motion picture is a group actually, the complex Laurent family, which has strained relationships with each other and the outside world, along some lines, it is not taken to the point where each hates the other, but there are problems related to George Laurent- the always magnificent Jean-Louis Trintignant- and his wish to end his life, Thomas Laurent, the son of George portrayed by another “magnifique” artist, Mathieu Kassovitz, has divorced one wife and is now cheating online another spouse, Anais…
Eve Laurent- the talented teenager Fantine Harduin- has to move in with her only healthy parent, Thomas, and the rest of the family, after her mother appears to have tried to commit suicide with many pills, including some for…malaria, and this experience traumatizes her to the point where, believing –and she may be right- that her father does not love anyone, may move away from the current wife and therefore the thirteen year old by end up in a strange home, institutionalized perhaps.
The phenomenal, probably best actress in the world, alongside Meryl Streep, Isabelle Huppert has the role of Anne Laurent, the manager of the family company, promoted to this difficult position by her father, Georges, when the latter had to abandon work to take care of his very sick wife for three years, at the end of which- he confesses to Eve- seeing all the terrible, excruciating pain, he suffocated his spouse.
In other words, this Happy End seems like a continuation of the chef d’oeuvre Amour, in which we have the same father and daughter and the old man, who deeply loves his wife, decides to put her out of her misery and this is something he had been trying to do for himself, visiting first Zurich, in Switzerland, where he was refused on account of his good health, then trying to bribe his barber to procure a pistol, shotgun or some pills in sufficient quality and finally, when he is refused, the patriarch tries to smash his car into a tree, incident after which he is immobilized in a wheel chair.
Pierre Laurent is the son of Anne, in charge of work on a construction site where an accident takes place- one might wonder how the director arranged for the very large earth movement, if it is not a special effects operation- and the troubled young man has a confrontation with inspectors and he then tries to bring attention to the unfairness, big difference between this rich family and their servants, Rachid and Jamila, calling the latter at a party to praise her cooking and then say…this is our Moroccan “Slave”
In another instance, Pierre brings a group of refugees to his mother’s ceremony, trying to relate their story, beginning with a man from Nigeria, who has suffered the trauma of losing his family, burned to death, but when he tries to talk about the other seven or eight men that he has brought to this special event, his mother and her partner- the outstanding Toby Jones- try to “reestablish order” , while George tells Eve to wheel him out, trying to take advantage of the kerfuffle…
The teenage girl has managed to enter the laptop of her father- in the first instance, before he changes his password- and the dialogue between the parent and an apparent lover could not be more explicit, heated, hardcore and extreme- “cul, pisser sur visage” and much more, making the daughter worry so much about her possible future in a “foyer” that she tries to commit suicide- a tragic, extreme act that alas looks like it is in the genes of this family.
At one point, Eve talks to George and the old grandfather confesses the euthanasia he committed for his departed wife, inviting the girl to speak about her own issues, maybe secrets she wants to share and she has says that she has tried to poison a colleague, making her eat unknowingly some pills- if this memory is correct.
This movie was included in the selection of The Cannes Film Festival and this is a clear indication that this is one of the best films of the year, for that is the ultimate confirmation, quite often- if not always- the value of the films awarded and selected at Cannes is above the winners of the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and probably the BAFTAs.
This is not as dark as Funny Games, The Piano Teacher or The White Ribbon, but it still depicts rich bourgeois life as selfish, arrogant, in contrast with the Moroccan family living in the same lavish mansion, an old man that wants to die with desperation, but meanwhile talking to the others in a rude, more than unpleasant manner, doctor Thomas is not just thinking of another woman, but he seems to be at the extreme of philandering, in the sense that he appears totally dedicated to this “maitresse” his sexual chat reveals that he is so infatuated, desires that lover so much that one wonders why and how can he still share a bedroom with his young, attractive and decent spouse.
Indeed, the daughter is asking some of these same questions, knows that the father had already ended the marriage with her biological mother –who is in a critical condition and may die- and confronts the adult with the facts and tells him she does not want to be abandoned…
Happy End is a masterpiece.