Happy End

Reviewed by Pam Newns

There is never a dull moment In a Michael Haneke film and 'Happy End' is no exception. From its unsettling beginning, with the captioned live-streaming of Eve's mother's bedtime routines sent to her friends, to its grimly funny end scene where Eve's grandfather almost achieves his own wished-for demise, also captured on her mobile, the film demands your attention.

The filming sets the scene for Eve's character; it shows her antipathy towards her mother and culminates, after the experimental drugging of her hamster with anti-depressants, in the admission that she poisoned her mother. So Eve is certainly no little innocent………………….

Eve is, in fact, an unhappy, uncannily self-possessed thirteen year-old, sent to live with the privileged wealthy Laurent family. Her grandfather, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) presides over the family - her father, Thomas, his new wife and baby, her aunt, Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and her wayward son, Pierre. Anne is sorting out legal proceedings following a site accident (caused by Pierre) to ensure they are not sued; Georges is trying to find someone to assist him in suicide so he can join the wife he killed; Thomas is having an affair with a haughty-looking cellist played out initially in a series of sexually explicit texts. The only one who seems to have any feelings for others is Pierre, who delights in embarrassing his mother and her new husband (Toby Jones) by introducing the local immigrants into her wedding celebrations.

Whilst all this is going on, Eve is discovering their secrets. She herself attempts suicide and eventually strikes up a relationship with her grandfather, developing a mutual understanding which culminates in her helping him almost to his 'happy end'. Director Michael Haneke specialises in family dysfunction and the Laurents are no exception – each individual goes about his/her own business with little thought of or connection to others, all have secrets to hide and a chilly atmosphere pervades the whole bourgeois family. When the child of their Moroccan servant is bitten by the family dog, they are more concerned with him controlling the dog than for the child. Eve's statement to her father "You're so far away" could apply to any one of them.

The style of filming develops our sense of unease; we are shown a kaleidoscope of snatched scenes with social media and video recordings providing a stark version of events. The accident at the family’s construction site is presented to us via a security camera which catches the slow collapse of a side wall – we are the detached observers or voyeurs.

Fantine Harduin is outstanding as the murderous but vulnerable Eve, mature beyond her years and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges) gives a marvellously nuanced performance particularly visible in a scene where he is coaxing Eve to explain her suicide attempt. The film has been criticised as merely a re-working of Haneke's usual themes, but I enjoyed its intricacies, thought provoking qualities and the fact that it is interlaced with dark humour – a gripping bourgeois nightmare.