Published On: Thu, Jan 11th, 2018

Happy End a dark, daring look at decadence

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Laura Verlinden and Franz Rogowski. Written and directed by Michael Haneke. Opens Friday at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 108 minutes. 14A

Michael Haneke makes Snapchat sinister.

In his new film Happy End, arriving in Toronto theatres after festival stops that included Cannes and TIFF, the audience once again becomes complicit in extreme behaviour. The Austrian writer/director uses social media to dissect the ennui of an affluent French family.

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Haneke shrewdly casts young Belgian actress Fantine Harduin as an unhappy teen who commits shocking acts of cruelty, all while communicating with unseen friends via Snapchat. Who could guess the dark thoughts behind that sweet face?

From left: Fantine Harduin as Ève Laurent, Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges Laurent, Isabelle Huppert as Anne Laurent, Laura Verlinden as Anais Laurent, Toby Jones as Lawrence Bradshaw and Mathieu Kassovitz as Thomas Laurent in Michael Haneke's film Happy End.
From left: Fantine Harduin as Ève Laurent, Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges Laurent, Isabelle Huppert as Anne Laurent, Laura Verlinden as Anais Laurent, Toby Jones as Lawrence Bradshaw and Mathieu Kassovitz as Thomas Laurent in Michael Haneke’s film Happy End.  (SYSTEM / Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)  

The director revisits themes of social inequality, quality of life (and the ending of it), sexual obsessions and modern miscommunication that he’s examined in other (and perhaps better) films, including Amour, Caché and Funny Games.

His surgical scalpel remains as sharp as ever, even as he carves into familiar flesh. He assembles a great cast — Amour’s Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, plus Mathieu Kassovitz, Franz Rogowski, Toby Jones, Laura Verlinden and welcome discovery Harduin — for a story set in the port city of Calais.

Shot with elegant forbearance by regular Haneke cinematographer Christian Berger and leanly scripted by the filmmaker, Happy End indirectly addresses the ongoing European refugee crisis, but mainly savages the indiscreet charmlessness of the bourgeoisie.

The family of retired construction tycoon Georges Laurent (Trintignant) finds itself beset with indignities of all sorts: a drug overdose, a savage beating, kinky sexual infidelity, a wanderer with dementia and a job-site wall collapse that may lead to a ruinous legal settlement.

The Laurents reside in a fabulous waterfront mansion attended by many servants, but their lives seemed destined for dysfunction. Georges’ daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert) now runs his construction firm and she’s obliged to deal with its many problems.

These include that wall collapse, caught on security video, which injured an employee and now threatens the firm’s future. Anne has little faith in her childish son Pierre (Rogowski), whom she unwisely employs in a top job. (We see him do a bizarre karaoke routine where he sings Sia’s “Big Girls Cry,” a song which includes the lyrics “no time for love, no time for hate.”)

Anne’s surgeon brother Thomas (Kassovitz) is too caught up in his own drama to be much help — he and his wife Anaïs (Verlinden) have a new baby son, as well as sullen 13-year-old Ève (Harduin), Thomas’ daughter from an earlier marriage. This does not stop Thomas from also having a mistress.

Ève looks innocent, but her intentions are anything but. No horror movie can top the chills you feel when she’s left alone with her baby brother. She and her granddad, soon to be 85, discover they have a shared interest not in bedtime stories or zoo visits but rather in misanthropy.

The film keeps us riveted to the screen, parsing every carefully lensed deed and misdeed, wondering how far the characters and Haneke will go.

Most chilling of all is the thought the filmmaker implants that we’re all too morally corrupt to care, one way or the other. We prefer to gaze, not to act.

If you think the title is anything but a grim joke, you don’t know Haneke.

Also opening Friday:Aida’s Secrets, a post-Holocaust family reconnection documentary, by Alon Schwarz and Shaul Schwarz; and Mountain, an ode to glorious precipices, directed by Jennifer Peedom and narrated by Willem Dafoe. Both films screen at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

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Happy End a dark, daring look at decadence