Much like a lot of Michael Haneke’s work, ‘Happy End’ basks in an amusingly ironic title. Unlike a lot of the prolific director’s films, however, his latest output fails to make much of an emotional impact at all, despite its overbearing bleakness.
The film opens as a young girl – Eve Laurent, played by Fantine Harduin – poisons her hamster, videoing her experiment on her phone and providing commentary as she watches her pet die. The scene is almost funny in its unexpected darkness, and it is within this vein that Haneke continues to paint the atrocious, uncaring behaviours of the Calais family that the film focuses upon. After her mother is hospitalised, Eve is forced to live with her absent father and his family. It is with the introduction of this array of characters that the film really begins. Unfortunately, the story never fully kicks off, with much of its 1hr47minute runtime spent building up an uneven portrait of a multitude of characters that are not unique nor well-written enough to inspire such focus, and, as a result, it was increasingly difficult to remain attentive.
There are glimmers of genius, and it is in these moments that one remembers the level of talent attached to the picture. Haneke’s use of modern technology, for example, accurately reframes the film into the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, allowing a fuller insight into her complicated psyche, as she filters an adult world through her eyes (or, more accurately, through the lens of her snapchat account). This theme, in fact, could have made the film much more tolerable had it been utilised to its full extent – instead, Haneke plays around with this unique format a little, before seemingly getting bored and moving elsewhere. Additionally, fault cannot be found with the acting talent attached; the incredible, humane performances that are found throughout the film may even be worth paying the price of a ticket for, with highlights from the ever-commanding Isabelle Huppert and the young, surprisingly mature Fantine Harduin.
At the end of the day, ‘Happy End’ is no doubt an interesting film to look at from an analytical perspective – I can imagine its use in literary classes, complete with valiant attempts to unearth the deeper meaning in small directorial decisions. The dryly funny dialogue and themes of familial strife may well become central to many an academic essay. As a film viewed in its entirety however, it comes off as muddled and unnecessarily complex, as little more than a series of scenes that loosely connect but cannot hold audience interest for too long. At its best, the film is a bleak look at the inherent loneliness of family life; at its worst, it is a boring slog, failing to imbue any coherence or meaning in any of its sorrow.
‘Happy End’ will be released in the UK on the 1st December 2017, and in the US on the 22nd December 2017. Let me know any thoughts you have on twitter at @muchadocinema or @angiebouchards, or comment below! You can read the rest of our London Film Festival coverage here.