In the Special Presentation section, a film by Michael Haneke is never going to be a straightforward story, this sardonic and stylish observation piece is no exception. There are going to be several things going on at once and every now and then there will be a shot or a scene in which Haneke seems to be saying “catch-up people”.
In Happy End, we even start with one of these types of scenes. The film has a sequential start, between the credits we have a mobile-phone screen video, first of a women washing; then of Pips the hamster having been fed some of the mother’s anti-depressant pills…the effect is fatal.
We don’t yet know who is filming or indeed who is receiving this video story, that is not important at the time. The film “proper” opens on a huge building site, the main focus seems to be a large yellow earth mover, but suddenly way over on the other side of the building site, a wall collapses causing a large mud slide, then one of those blue site porta-loos tumbles down.
It turns out to have had someone in it.
The site is being managed on behalf of her father by Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) and her son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is proving woefully inadequate as site manager.
We then switch to the story about Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin) who turns up now in this household, her mother having overdosed. She is obviously very sad about this but goes willingly to live with her father, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his new wife and baby, Paul who also live with Anne (Thomas’ sister) and their father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who is slowly sinking into a state of dementia.
As the relationships develop it quickly becomes apparent that Anne is involved with an Englishman, the ubiquitous Toby Jones. There is a possibility that Thomas is also having an affair, but apart from one call observed by Eve there is no actual evidence. But then this is a Michael Haneke film, nothing is there accidentally.
While this film is largely about relationships and consequences, it is also an observation on aging, Georges hates his situation and tries in various way to remedy it, unsuccessfully though at times absurdly comic. The whole film has these occasional scenes and there were many outburst of laughter, even when the hamster dies from the overdose – a foreshadowing of the fate of Eve’s mother obviously.
The title is also a double entendre, this is set in Calais – the happy (ie rich) end of the town, but clearly there are migrants and poorer people about, the great unseen. The Laurent family don’t have to have anything to do with that – what with their servants, comfortably large house and money. But at the same time, relationships have endings as well, some happier than other perhaps and to all intents and purposes the final scene should be a fairy tale ending, except that it doesn’t quite go according to plan.
The ending is sublimely funny in a rather macabre way, and again we see much of it playing out on the same small phone screen.
There is great deal of food for thought and this film will be in UK screens at some point, possibly December or January. Definitely worth looking out for, if only for a marvellous ensemble cast.