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CANNES 2017 Competition

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Happy End: A step back for Michael Haneke

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- CANNES 2017: After winning two Palmes d’Or, the Austrian filmmaker is back, in a somewhat icy setting, to working with the more familiar themes of his films before The White Ribbon

Happy End: A step back for Michael Haneke
Jean-Louis Trintignant in Happy End

Details of the cast and the first scenes from Happy End [+see also:
trailer
film focus
Q&A: Michael Haneke
film profile
]
, in which Michael Haneke plays on the mobile phone footage format, have pleasantly quenched the expectation-filled restlessness that festivalgoers gathered together on the Croisette for the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival very clearly felt at the beginning of the screening of this film in competition. With the director having won two of the most well-deserved Palmes d’Or in the history of the festival, the first going to the sublime and calm culmination in a remorseless study of the evil in mankind (The White Ribbon [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Michael Haneke
film profile
]
), and the second paying tribute to a deeply moving gush of emotion that could have been seen as the magnificent end to a career of admirable integrity (Amour [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Michael Haneke
film profile
]
, which also won an Oscar the following year), we could only expect to be flabbergasted by a feature film with a title as evocative as Happy End. We imagined that the title of the film would be deceptive, of course, all the while secretly hoping that it wouldn’t be, but it nonetheless seemed to make us a promise, which this great Austrian filmmaker has beyond a shadow of a doubt kept.

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The opening sequences however, especially the three videos filmed on mobile phones and commented on, in the jargon of youth, by subtitles that appear at the bottom of the screen, pique our interest, and highlight the director’s close attention to the tools of communication (and media coverage) of our time, also recalling his approach to Benny’s Video. Also recognisable, in the coldness and detached gaze of the child filming in secret from his depressive mother, is the enigmatic style of Hidden [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Margaret Menegoz
interview: Michael Haneke
film profile
]
, this way of coldly observing from afar without letting us hear – which is supplemented by other narrative omissions that willingly leave us in a state of ignorance that is well and truly part of the plot.

The middle-class family in the Happy End owns a big construction company, and its members are slowly but surely revealed to have several points in common with the characters in Hidden, most notably the guilt that hounds them and detaches them from others and themselves, a distance (which is also a filter) that doggedly results in the placement of the camera mentioned above. This strangely united yet dilated group of people who don’t speak at mealtimes is made up of the father (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a man who is neither overly nice nor overly nasty, his daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert), who is unyielding but human and the mother of Pierre (Franz Rogowski from the fabulous Victoria [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Sebastian Schipper
film profile
]
, here at the centre of one of the best scenes in the entire film, the kareoke scene), and her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a married man who carries on a sexual dialogue on the Internet in which he gives free rein to his darkest urges (reminiscent this time of The Piano Teacher incidentally, his mistress plays the viola) and must integrate his 13-year-old daughter Ève, who he has just regained custody of, into the family. The household is completed by the servants, Jamila and Rachid, who watch over it sometimes more attentively than the members of this family do themselves.

Under these conditions, welcoming a preteen traumatised by the loss of her mother (without knowing why she left) into the family is a strange operation which we often follow through the gaze of Ève, an empty gaze as if she were indifferent, of one who "doesn’t know" (as she repeats each time she is asked a question), noticing, with scathing sharpness, the lack of love here, the same love that Haneke’s film of the same name was full to the brim of and that he lessens the strength of here, by injecting a precision into the screenplay that takes it away from us, replacing is with a well-known coldness that he perhaps exhausts the potential of somewhat, as here he revisits a lot of familiar ground without exploring anything new, with the exception perhaps of the last and very beautiful scene in which a silhouette gradually sinks into the water.

Produced by Les Films du Losange, X Filme Creative Pool and Wega Film, the film is being sold internationally by Les Films du Losange.

(Translated from French)

See also

Sarajevo Report
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Midpoint Feature
 

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