Happy End (R)

Drama 107 min. December 22, 2017
By April Wolfe
In his ensemble family drama Happy End, Michael Haneke imagines a kind of alternate version of the 2012 earnest heartbreaker Amour, which won him the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Now, the widowed Georges (again played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) is bitter and wishing for death. While the characters of Happy End are mostly from Amour, the most disparate element is tone. It is as though the Funny Games director resented how much adulation the relatively sweet and thoughtful Amour received and said, "You think you know what death is? It's senseless and void of feeling or meaning."

Haneke imagines Georges not in his down-to-earth digs of Amour but in a cold, sterile mansion owned by his daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert), who's struggling to keep the family's construction firm afloat amid tragedies and one very bad accident. Anne's brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his wife Anais (Laura Verlinden) also live in the mansion. Thomas' daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) is constantly asked how old she is — 13 — and Haneke shows us through her eyes how adults seem obsessed with ages and numbers; magnifying a quotidian occurrence to examine its gravity has always been Haneke's strength. When we ask someone's age, are we not really asking them how close they are to death?

Georges and Eve are the heart and soul, the beginning and the end, of this story. They're both acutely aware of how precious -- and, conversely, futile -- life is, while everyone else is going through its motions. The film drags when Haneke pulls focus to the other, duller characters, perhaps inevitably, as it seems his intention for them to lack interiority or thoughtfulness.
Michael Haneke Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Kassovitz, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Nabiha Akkari, Dominique Besnehard Sony Pictures Classics

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