happy end by michael haneke

Happy End Haneke – review and critical analysis

Michael Haneke’s Happy End is a thought-provoking movie, ostensibly about the life of a bourgeoise family in present day Calais. During the ride we are asked to consider the dysfunctional nature of families, the isolation of the bourgeoisie from the real world, and the impact of technology and surveillance on our lives. Some pretty big themes!

The dysfunctional nature of families

The family at the centre of Happy End manages to accommodate a sociopathic and kinky serial cheater, a psychopathic murderer, a suicidal patriarch, an incompetent rogue son and a manipulative fixer. Quite a feat for a family of five main characters.

After having set up and run a successful construction and transport business for many years, the patriarch is now living out his days in the family mansion, attended to by two Moroccan servants, his son and daughter and a nephew. He’s heading towards dementia, and, bored with the lack of meaning in his life he longs for an end. His daughter (payed by Isabelle Huppert) spends her time running the business, and trying to protect it from her incompetent and depressive son – and heir to the business – who’s negligence has led to a serious accident and opened the business up to a potentially crippling legal case. She’s not above a bit of bribery to make problems go away – she offers a settlement to the family affected by the case, and chocolates to a young girl bitten by the family dog – and ultimately sells the business to her fiance’s company so that her son is disenfranchised.

The son spends his time juggling a wife, a lover, and a newly arrived daughter from his first marriage who is sent to live with him whilst his ex-wife is in hospital. Quite unable to relate to the daughter, and seemingly a serial cheater, the prescient daughter observes that ‘you don’t love anyone’. The newly arrived daughter in turn takes pleasure in torturing animals – always a danger sign! – and likes to experiment with poisoning people. Quite the package! It’s actually hard to think of a personality issue that isn’t covered here!

The isolation of the bourgeoisie from the ‘real world’

The life of the family in Happy End takes place in a white middle-class world where it’s seemingly normal to have Moroccan servants, family events are lavish garden parties or hosted in waterfront restaurants and the family home is a mansion. But this is Calais, France, in the middle (or start!?) of the era of heightened awareness of the issues of immigrants from Africa. The rogue nephew is happy to spoil the party – firstly by introducing the family’s Moroccan cook to the guests at his grandfather’s birthday party as the family’s ‘Moroccan slave’, and then by gatecrashing his mother’s very white wedding reception – a point emphasised beautifully with it’s setting in a pure white venue, and with the guests wearing a lot of white – with a group of (very black) refugees, in Calais in the hope of making the ‘tunnel crossing’ to the UK.

The impact of technology on our lives

There have always been dysfunctional families, and since their rise, the bourgeoisie have always been immune to the struggles of those below them. The new element here is the rise of social media and surveillance technology. We are now always being watched, are moving to a disengaged culture where we value sharing on social media more than we do actual human interactions, and have opportunities open to us that weren’t open before. The movie opens with a series of spy videos shot on a mobile phone – the subject isn’t aware of the surveillance. It then opens out to CCTV footage of one of the family’s construction sites. The movie is shot in clear light, and often using long ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style shots. We are being watched all the time, and often without our knowledge. The son carries out an affair using chat functionality on Facebook. This in turn is monitored by his daughter until she confronts him with it and he changes his password. And finally, the climax of the movie comes with the psychopathic young daughter choosing to film rather than help her grandfather commit suicide.

Haneke’s Happy End movie review

Our rating: 7.5/10 – interesting, but a little slow, and with the exception of a couple of comic moments, lacking in humour or beauty.

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