CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Fantine Harduin, Matthieu Kassovitz, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden, Toby Jones

Director: Michael Haneke

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Secret Sexual Proclivities and Mental Illness Troubles

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)

Austrin auteur Michael Haneke does not make his viewing experiences easy for his audiences, and that is exactly the point. The world as he sees it is stiff and unforgiving, so why not make his films just as ramrod confrontational? His 1997 home invasion thriller Funny Games plays wildly with morality, also disorienting his audience with fourth-wall breaking tricks and film grammar deconstruction. His latest, Happy End, proves that he still has the same impish spirit and penchant for poking his nose at the middle class, but this time the effects are slighter and more scattered.

Happy End is essentially about emotional numbness and how suicidal tendencies run through one family. This is difficult material, but worth exploring. The trouble is, Haneke’s approach is so cold and detached here that it is difficult to understand what point he is making and what is really going on. The film begins with preteen Eve (Fantine Harduin) poisoning her mother with sedatives, and I am still trying to figure out if she was in fact trying to kill her, or if she had any clear motivation at all. She poisons herself in the same way later on, and she is so hard to read that I cannot tell whether or not this suicide attempt is due to actual depression. When she helps her frail, wheelchair-bound grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) commit suicide by drowning, it suggests that depression runs in the family. But Georges’ decision might be based more on the pain of old age.

Haneke has a knack for stretching the limits of both civility and cinema, and that is present in Happy End in ways that have stuck with me. A troubled son (Franz Rogowski) disturbs his mother’s (Isabelle Huppert) engagement by showing up with a group of uninvited refugees. Eve’s father (Matthieu Kassovitz) and his new wife (Laura Verlinden) are too distracted by the blah-ness of life to really know what is going on around them. Multiple shots consist of cell phone video footage or a computer message screen. But the overall approach is as numb as its characters and doesn’t add up to a coherent message.

Happy End is Recommended If You Like: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Funny Games, The Square, but like, the first draft version of all of those

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hamster Videos