Happy End – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz
Set in Calais in the present, Haneke follows the daily happenings of a family who are proprietors of a successful construction company. The head of the family, George Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant), is a widower, frail and unsettled. His daughter Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) runs the business. She has a son Pierre (Franz Rogowski), who may have some talents, but being useful in the family business is not one of them. She has a brother Thomas (Matthieu Kassovitz) who has recently remarried. His young daughter Eve (Fancine Harduin) is not impressed by his serial monogamy. The family are leading lights in the business and social whirl of Calais and its environs. Calais, of course, contains at the other end of the social spectrum destitute asylum seekers who wish to try to enter Britain. This juxtaposition underlies the plot.
The film begins with an accident which takes place on a large building site where the Laurent family business is the employer. The business has to watch its finances. However, the Laurent family maintain a comfortable and luxurious standard of living such that Anne is able to entertain many of her friends and acquaintances at a large lunch at round tables suitably bedecked with fine napery and with waiters to fetch and carry.
Haneke with his customary genius reveals the tensions which are at the heart of the family. The managerial efficiency but loneliness of Anne, the remoteness of George apart from his ability to interact with his granddaughter Eve who is a very knowing young teenager, the alienation of Pierre from the comfortable world in which he is trapped and the poor relationship that crackles between the self-centred Thomas and Eve his daughter. Haneke controls this multiplicity of family relationships with deft elegance. The ordered social charm of this bourgeois family appears secure but the presence in the streets of Calais of the asylum seekers is unsettling. Haneke brings these contrasting lives to an unlikely denouement while at the same time the Laurent family suffer a tragedy.
The acting is superb as is to be expected with such a fine cast. It is very much a story of the current time… between a world of much conspicuous wealth and grim destitution but also within the world of wealth the emotional poverty which stalks its uncertain members. A serious film, beautifully shot particularly the opening sequence of the accident and also the final scenes. Haneke has created another fine film to add to his successes with the likes of Amour and the White Ribbon. Simply enjoy a master film maker at work.