Happy End is another distancing dose of misanthropy from the misanthropic master, Michael Haneke. It’s defined by a poisonous distaste for humanity paired with a cold, distancing aesthetic. While that worked wonders in Caché – a masterpiece! – here the cynicism never translates into insight.
It takes around half the film’s runtime for Happy End to tie a series of vignettes around the Laurent family – the sort of wealthy, existentially bereft people these sorts of films always centre upon – into some kind of coherent narrative. I say “some kind of” because, honestly, I wasn’t sure how every one of the expansive cast – including the likes of Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Toby Jones – figured into the storyline.
The film builds into a darkly comic climax that’s either going to win you over or, as in my case, …not. (In case you haven’t guessed by now, the title is ironic.) There’s an ongoing thread about the characters’ obliviousness to the plight of refugees that struck me as undercooked (think A Bigger Splash, but not as nuanced), and Haneke’s insistence in underlining the grossness of his characters’ solipsism denies any chance in sympathising with them. The grimness will appeal to some, but not me.