If You’re Happy and You Know it

Happy End (Michael Haneke, 2017)

On a scale of 1 to to Von Trier, this is about a seven.

The Laurent family run a formerly construction firm near Calais and in the second sequence, a long shot from a security camera, we see a collapse of earth next to a huge set of foundations, complete with a Portaloo falling into the abyss. We are already on the edge, having seen smart phone footage of Eve Laurent’s mother in a bathroom and apparently taking sedatives, and of Eve (Fantine Harduin) doping and possibly killing her pet hamster.

Eve goes to stay with her father Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his new wife Anaïs (Laura Verlinden), elderly grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and aunt Anne (Isabelle Huppert). The Laurent family is in crisis — Georges wants to die, Thomas is having an affair, Anne is considering marriage to Lawrence Bradshaw (the as-always splendid Toby Jones) and Laurent family firm manager Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is out of his deoth and drinking too heavily.

Haneke expects us to fill in a lot of the gaps — he likes filming from a distance, softening the suicide attempts and violence, sometimes letting us imagine it. There are skips in time where we have to infer events. And Thomas’s sexting is almost illegible, given the tiny surtitles, although that might be as well.

There are other lacunae — the class positioning of the Laurent’s servants, Rachid (Hassam Ghancy) and Jamila (Nabiha Akkari) is fairly obvious, but the role of the illegal migrants in the Jungle camp at Calais seems underdeveloped. There’s something here about white, upper middle class privilege, but it ends up more to Anne’s favour and Thomas’s detriment than might be helpful. Are these the same people that Georges has talked to in a long shot, a moment tinged with potential violence as that’s the filmic language of Happy End.

The title is of course ironic, or at least ambiguous, as those of us who have seen Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998) or even La Bonheur (Happiness, 1965) can attest. But perhaps that’s all too obvious.

Don’t Call Me …

Shirley (Josephine Decker,  2018)

The first rule of biopics is that they are not biographies of their subjects — in this case we have Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), best known for the inexplicably thought to be frightening “The Lottery” and the twice-filmed The Haunting of Hill House. She clearly had some issues with smoking and barbiturates and other meds and an unfaithful husband.

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Infrequent strong language, discrimination, moderate comic violence

An American Pickle (Brandon Tros, 2020)

So, this must be a first in certification terms: 12A because of discrimination.

Although, when you think about it, what might be balance is anti-Semitic. The sexism, on the other hand, is perhaps invisible. Continue reading →

The Lighthouse Keeper’s World is Round

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)

A curious psychological horror, which begins in the Empire Marketing Board zone of Drifters and goes via Knife in the Water to A Field in England, with the Total Bollocks Overdrive cranked up to twelve and then cranked up further.

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The Dead Don’t Do Subtext

The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch, 2019)

Jim Jarmusch is evidently one of those low budget indie auteur who both builds an ensemble around him and persuades A-List stars in search of artistic credibility to work for him (presumably for scale). A couple of years ago he cast the divine Tilda Swinton in a misjudged vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive and now he shifts to the zombie film to pastiche.

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Peter Parker’s International Vacation

Jake Gyllenhaal has a strange look in his eyes for the first half hour — “I was nominated for a Oscar,” they say, “I used to do low budget quirky cult hits.” He’s a superhero from a parallel dimension, here to do battle with four Elementals that want to destroy this Earth as they destroy his. And it just so happens Water hits Venice when Peter Parker is on his school trip.

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Gonna be, Gonna be, Gonna be, Gonna be, All Right

Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2018)

So Chilean director Sebastián Lelio made a well-regarded film called Gloria (2013), about a middle-aged divorcée’s tribulations whilst dating. Julianne Moore saw it and liked it and decided she wanted to star in a remake.

There’s an ambiguity to this film and my response to it — in part the double standard of how we (I) react to no-longer-youthful women in films compared to men of the same age. Here’s she’s a divorced mother of two trying to find a new partner or at least some fun in the Californian disco scene. Isn’t she brave to let herself not be glamorous, we (I) might think, in a way we wouldn’t for costar John Turturro. And yet there is an A-list glamour she hasn’t shaken off here and she is in pretty well every shot. She’s had an interesting line in troubled wives already — Far From Heaven, The Hours, Savage Grace — so this is hardly a stretch. We’re carried along by her boogieing to the music, we cringe or empathise at the troubled women in her family and circle, we wonder when Turturro got middle aged…

There is hope — in her daughter’s long distance relationship and in her ex-husband’s new marriage, although he seems estranged from his children. Turturro’s character, whom Gloria meets at a disco, ought to set alarm bells off earlier than he does and presumably it is her sense of this being Her Final Chance that means she ignores them. But she in part condemns faults in his relationships she has in her own. Meanwhile, his military background would have had a more sinister implication in the Chilean original than it does here.

Meanwhile, the film putters along, incident after incident, with minor cameos (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chris Mulkey) promising more than their characters have screen time to deliver. There’s a moment of crisis that offers catharsis, but doesn’t quite deliver, which feels like the film as a whole.