Those familiar with the work of Austrian auteur Michael Haneke know better than to take the title of his latest effort – Happy End –at face value. A sprawling portrait of crumbling domesticity and manners, Happy End is a bitter comedy, pointed drama, and curiously Haneke’s most straightforward film in years.
After her mother overdoses on antidepressants, 13 year old Eve (Fantine Harduin) goes to stay with her semi-estranged father (Mathieu Kassovitz) and step-mother (Laura Verlinden). They live on the lavish estate of her aunt (Isabelle Huppert), a businesswoman trying to groom her erratic son (Franz Rogowski) to take over the contracting firm established by her father (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The perceptive, social media obsessed, and slightly morbid Eve recognizes the inconsistencies in the adults around her, but she might have more in common with her grandfather than she initially recognizes.
Haneke’s competing storylines complement each other nicely, and the performances are solid across the board. The filmmaker’s penchant for dark humour remains unchanged here, but it’s tempered somewhat by a rather standard sort of narrative where things are a bit more predictable than some of Haneke’s previous efforts. The film’s pointed discussions about white privilege during a time of the biggest migrant crisis in world history feel tacked on and shoddily integrated, but everything else here is strong, if a bit standard.
Is Happy End essential viewing?
It’s almost assuredly destined to be viewed as “lesser Haneke,” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile viewing.