Happy End

Tony Ling
18th Jan 2018

Of all the dysfunctional families I’ve seen on cinema, few match the invitational scope of self-reflection and engagement that Happy End seeks to exemplify. It’s a film that can be abstract, can be humorous, yet very, very meditative on the ‘human’ elements of the ensemble cast that all possess some very ‘uncanny’ qualities in their life. Directed by Michael Haneke, the acclaimed Austrian director behind the Oscar-nominated Amour, Happy End is certainly a play on a humorous irony that undertones the majority of the film where very bitter and unfortunate things unfold themselves on to people that are far from perfect themselves.

The story revolves around a family of very different individuals dealing with their own complex dillemmas in life. The film starts off with the daughter named Eve secretly video recording her mother on the film’s non-copyright version of Snapchat whilst commenting on her bitter thoughts of her mother’s monotonous life which coincidentally leads to the mother trying to commit suicide by overdosing on antidepressants. The daughter is then taken in by her estranged father Thomas and his family living in a lavish upper-class mansion that has the rest of the family along with their servants. Soon you’ll explore everyone’s stories in this family. The older grandad suffering from dementia that secretly wants euthanasia. The aunt’s straining relationship with her alcoholic son whilst dealing with the family’s business possible demise from a colossal construction site accident. Even some other little things along the way.

The story is multifaceted to say the least but its themes all are prevalent across the strings of its web. It’s for a mature audience though. If you don’t enjoy putting your thinking hat on as you observe the idiosyncracies of these weary and sometimes disturbing characters, you’re not nearly going to get as much meaning and entertainment as what the director intended.

This is very much a meditative film. The cuts in the editing are not quick by any stretch, the cinematography almost entirely David Fincher-esque with steady camera panning and with very selective close up shots that makes you ponder in its novelty. There is no doubt the film invites you to challenge in terms of values towards certain intellectual subjects like the superficiality of the bourgeois, euthanasia, monogamy, the works! It also subtly but very clearly paints a satire of such subjects as well at times with each stroke crafted in an almost deadpan stillness.

At times, the way this film is shot has uncanny similarity to the styles of a horror flick. The silences, the ambience, the still long shots of vulnerability with the feeling of the camera being there just a bit longer than it should… Except instead of something physically terrible, it’s the vulnerable mind that gets prayed. It’s certainly a unique form of cinema that rewards repeated viewers.

Make no mistake, Happy End as a film is what you make of it. What your minds invests in the complexity and subtle style of storytelling, will be what you get out of the film. It certainly is a sleek observation of the psychology of dysfunctional lives. You just end up questioning how repetitive and overwhelming it is in its pretentious execution.

Happy End opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday February 8th.