Tuesday 13 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (16) - HAPPY END (Michael Haneke, France). Reviewed by Rod Bishop

As film festival heavy-hitters come, Michael Haneke is top draw – 8 of his last 9 films have been selected for Cannes, he’s collected both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and the Palme d’Or twice (The White Ribbon, 2009 Amour 2012). The press at Cannes speculated: would he make history? Would Happy End make it a hat-trick?

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who snuffed out his demented wife in Amour, returns, as does his daughter (Isabelle Huppert) from that film but now mysteriously called Anne, not Eva. Georges has had enough of life, he has been refused euthanasia, his barber refuses to buy him a gun for suicide, so Georges tries to kill himself in a car, but ends up instead in a wheelchair, much like his wife in Amour. In a wordless scene, he maneuvers his wheelchair through Calais streets and tries, unsuccessfully, to solicit some passing African migrants. Still seeking his demise, he enlists the help of his troubled 13-year-old grand-daughter called Eve, possibly giving rise to speculations among Hanekeists – is this Eve the younger version of George’s daughter Anne?

Although we don’t yet know who she is, the film opens with camera-phone images from Eve euthanizing her hamster and probably tricking her mother into an overdose of prescription pills. Her mother appears in only one other scene, an unconscious dimly-lit figure in a hospital bed, with Eve visiting her for all of 10 seconds.

In the Laurent mansion, Anne, who now runs the family’s construction business, grapples with the implications of an on-site disaster (shown in a brilliant single take). She sends her wayward, hopeless son Pierre to make an offer to the family of a worker injured in the disaster, but he returns with a blood- nose and a black-eye (another brilliant single take). Pierre appears later in another superb one-shot scene, a drunken karaoke to Sia’s Chandelier (I had to look that one up).

Anne’s brother Thomas (Eve’s dad) is a doctor in a new relationship with Anais, but he’s conducting an affair with lots of cybersex dirty-talk with “Claire” – my guess is the cellist who appears later at George’s 85th birthday party. Eve, meanwhile has read her dad’s cybersex correspondence and the 13-year-old is unconcerned by the content, but very concerned her dad won’t take her with him when he leaves Anais.

It’s familiar Haneke material, of course. Family dysfunction, guilt, old age, repression, surveillance, secret sex and this time, a use of social media that sways between fear of, and love of, technology. His direction is exemplary with his characteristic elliptical exposition, keeping the audience guessing – should we be laughing or gasping - from scene to scene and sometimes, from shot to shot. It certainly has the best ending to any Haneke film. For a bloke who looks like he should be a Professor of Wittgensteinian Metaphysics, Haneke sure knows how to make black comedy.

The answer at Cannes was no Palme d’Or hat-trick with Happy End. But it’s a pretty good try.

My guess is Will Smith probably dropped him at first slip.

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