Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke, with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant

Peak Haneke: the haughty bourgeoisie is just awful, and children are the canaries in the mine. Well, I can’t complain; I knew what I was letting myself in for. I didn’t like the film at all – far too chilly (even down to its colours on a sunny day) and elliptical – but it has left an aftertaste. It doesn’t so much tell a story as present the viewer with various incidents.

Like real life, then.

Its protagonists are a dysfunctional family involved in the construction business: the old man who wishes to but cannot successfully bring his ailing life to a close; his self-possessed but cold-hearted daughter (except for a brief moment with her hopeless son – but is he hopeless because of his upbringing? – or is it reasonable for her to be at the end of her tether with him? – can he or she be held responsible for the death of a construction worker?); his twice-married, emotionally-maladroit son (does his second wife really vouvoie him?); the son’s 12-year-old daughter who certainly had a role in her hamster’s death and may have done the same to her depressed mother. The Starkadders are like the Waltons in comparison. Other dramatis personae are Moroccan-French live-in servants, a fierce cellist, a bad-tempered dog whose barking sounds like a threat to us all, and – since this is Calais – sub-Saharan African migrants in the background. Add a clip from TV news about oil wells, and you start worrying about climate change as well. It’s all very uneasy and unsettling.

What Haneke does brilliantly here is use the camera in its various forms as a kind of narrative technique. Hence the child’s filming and text comments of her hardly-there mother are practically the only insight we have into her mind. Similarly, seeing her father’s use of an online messaging service to communicate with his lover is like peering into his id. Some incidents – like the son getting beaten up – are shot at a distance. The child’s mother is never shown as a whole – presumably reflecting the child’s and ex-husband’s perception of her.

So, yes, it was interesting.

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