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.