By Ali Moosavi.
Michael Haneke’s new film Happy End played at the Official Competition section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Haneke is a Cannes veteran, having won the Palm d’Or for Amour and The White Ribbon, Best Director for Hidden, and Grand Jury Prize for The Piano Teacher.
Happy End can be described as a companion piece to both Amour and Hidden in which Haneke looks at a dysfunctional family. Anne (Isabelle Huppert) is running a large construction family. She is separated but has a relationship with an English businessman (Toby Jones). Her son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) who is earmarked to run her mother’s company in due course, is having a mental breakdown. Anne’s brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a doctor, living with his second wife and a daughter from his previous marriage. His thirteen-year-old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) has been hacking into his computer and finding out that her father is still fooling around. The patriarch of the family is Anne and Thomas’s father Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant). We also have the Laurent family’s African servants and in the background the African refugees entering France.
For Anne and Thomas live in a world which is difficult to fathom by their children and father. It is a cold, detached world devoid of love that’s unaware of the refugee crisis and solely concerned with business and sex. The only sane people are Georges and Eve (an exceptional performance by the young Fantine Harduin). Georges, in a clear reference to Amour, confides to Eve that he suffocated his wife out of love for her and asks her to help him end his own life. As with all Haneke films, there is much more than what appears on the surface and to discover the many layers, repeated viewings is required. Haneke uses a number of long takes which often do not lead anywhere but underline the road to nowhere that the main characters are taking. Though it does not have the same immediate impact of The White Ribbon, it is, as all Haneke films, challenging and poses many questions. Happy End is another multi-layered work by a major director.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015) and is based in the United Arab Emirates.