Happy End

 

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A misunderstood masterpiece or a disaster area? Judge for yourself.

 
Happy End

Jean-Louis Trintignant

  

An inveterate prize-winner at Cannes, Michael Haneke must have been disappointed when his latest offering, Happy End, failed to win a prize at this year's festival. But the real shock for him, as I understand it, was the hostile reviews that greeted it. There are signs that the arrival of Happy End in London may be the occasion for a spirited refutation of those reviews and, given Haneke's past successes, I would have liked to be part of that. In the event, however, Happy End seems to me to be one of the worst films by a major artist that I have ever sat through.

 

As author of the original screenplay dealing with three generations of a prosperous family of property developers, the Laurents, living in Calais today, Haneke has come up with storylines that sound very interesting on paper. Nevertheless, for at least three reasons, on screen the project has no life in it. First, there's the sheer confusion of the storytelling including the failure to identify all of the characters clearly by name (which means, for example, that someone named Georges goes missing before we know which member of the family has that name). The fault is heightened by the deliberate withholding for a time of key information (who is sending a series of erotic e-mails and who keeps filming on a cell phone images first featured in a tiresome and lengthy introduction?). In Haneke's Hidden, the tale told was itself mysterious, but here the mystery is artificially added from the outside by Haneke himself.

 

The second flaw, at least as fatal, lies in the fact that so many issues are crammed in, creating not a central focus with intriguing sub-plots but an ill-digested mix. Here one finds a critique of capitalist exploiters (linked not just to the family's employment of Moroccan servants but to their ruthless attitude to them and even more towards a workman injured on a development site), the desirability or otherwise of making suicide illegal, the treatment of immigrants, the possibility of a 13-year-old being a murderess and an emphasis on the role played by technology in modern-day communications. Jumping around these elements from one to another means that justice is done to none of them.

 

When, late on, a scene between the grandfather (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his grandchild (Fantine Harduin) takes on some dramatic life one recognises the third flaw: the fact that most of the characters are little more than ciphers (which is one reason why the admirable Isabelle Huppert as the mother at the centre of things seems on this occasion to be so under-served). Many of the ideas here echo concerns touched on by Haneke in earlier and better films (there is even an inept indirect reference to Amour), but his expression of them has never before been so inadequate. If there is a Happy End here, it lies in the fact that he can now put this film behind him and, one hopes, return to much better things.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Fantine Harduin, Matthieu Kassovitz, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden, Toby Jones, Hassam Chancy, Nabiha Akkari, Dominique Besnehard.

 

Dir Michael Haneke, Pro Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka and Michael Katz, Screenplay Michael Haneke, Ph Christian Berger, Pro Des Olivier Radot, Ed Monika Willi, Costumes Catherine Leterrier.

 

Les Films Du Losange/X Filme Creative Pool/Wega Film/ARTE France Cinéma/France 3 Cinéma-Curzon Artificial Eye.
108 mins. France/German/Austria/Italy. 2017. Rel: 1 December 2017. Cert. 15 .