It has been five years since Michael Haneke’s last film, the Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning Amour. In that time, the world has been witness to ISIS execution videos, murders on Facebook Live, and the livestreaming of someone’s brutal death after an auto accident. With that much material, Haneke has returned with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant to gift the world Happy End, a film that looks at modern technology’s ability to capture atrocities, set within a familiar familial narrative structure within a wider global perspective.
This sort-of-sequel to Amour looks more closely at the lives of the Laurent family. The film depicts their lives as they deal with an accident on one of their construction sites, the death of a former family member, and a variety of death wishes. First things first, the performances are obviously exceptional, the long takes still rule (surprisingly, fewer than average), and the refusal to abide by anyone else’s narrative structure is still there. The film’s narrative style of storytelling – short glimpses into moments of life before moving on – will seem very familiar to proponents of Haneke. Something else that will seem familiar is Haneke’s take on the current political climate, constantly calling attention to both the refugee crisis and the state of white supremacy in the western world, never once allowing the audience to forget these evils.
What some may find slightly jarring is the use of not just modern technology but also modern technological-narrative language. The film begins with four scenes framed within a smart phone frame. From there on, smart phones, laptops and security cameras become vital storytelling tools. These objects also manage to change an important Hanekian concept: Haneke’s films are frequently accented by a moment of sudden violence. Happy End is not light on violence, but the violence is much more muted, the actual violence frequently taking the form of viewing suffering without helping. On top of that, the violence here is framed similarly to videos one might find on LiveLeak or WorldStarHipHop: the violence takes place in the distance, uncentred, quiet, colourless; the violence itself loses focus, giving it up to the recording of said violence.
Haneke has always been wary of technology, from the video cassettes of Benny’s Video to digital video in Caché. He has reached the streaming video age and has continued to create brilliant, unmatched cinema.
Read Shahbaz Khayambashi’s interview with Michael Haneke here!
Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:
Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam