With family patriarch Georges Laurent's (Jean-Louis Trintignant, "Amour") 85th birthday approaching, his daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert, "Amour") is dealing with a construction site disaster as her son Pierre (Franz Rogowski, "Victoria") proves wholly incapable of succeeding her. Georges becomes intrigued by his like-minded, thirteen year-old granddaughter Eve (Fantine Harduin), a recent addition to the family manse after her mother, surgeon father Thomas's (Mathieu Kassovitz, "Amélie") second wife, is hospitalized under mysterious circumstances. Georges hopes Eve can help him achieve a "Happy End."
Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke ("Cache," "Amour") is known for biting, often horrifying, social critiques, so it comes as a great surprise to find oneself belly laughing while watching his latest. "Happy End" begins tipping its hat to early films "The Seventh Continent" and "Benny's Video" with shades of "Cache" as we view the soon-to-be-victim of a disgruntled teen through her camera's POV, an unsettling introduction to a family oddly connected to the elderly couple and daughter of Haneke's "Amour" (Trintignant once again portrays Georges, a man who confesses to ending the life of his ailing wife Anne, now "Amour's" Huppert's name as Harduin takes on hers). This may be minor Haneke, but it is a refreshingly funny take on the cold cruelty of bourgeois capitalists and the desperate escape attempts of family members unable to compete.
Three generations of Laurents live in a stunning Lyon estate tended to by Moroccan servants Rachid (Hassam Ghancy) and Jamila (Nabiha Akkari) who are condescendingly treated like family pets. Anne rules the roost, dispatching Rachid when her dementia-addled father takes off in his pajamas, wearily schooling Pierre in the business conduct he continues to flout. Pierre and his third wife Anaïs (Laura Verlinden, "The Brand New Testament") seem outwardly happy raising their new family until we witness his phone sex sessions with Nathalie (Aurélia Petit, "The Science of Sleep"). Pierre lives separately self destructing. Eve remains a keen observer in her new environment.
Everything comes to a head during the birthday celebration, Pierre's cellist mistress providing the entertainment for an evening at home with family and friends. But it is the next day, during a restaurant luncheon, where real comic chaos ensues, Pierre arriving late with a group of black immigrants to declare some harsh truths just as his mother has announced her engagement to banker Lawrence Bradshaw (Toby Jones, "Atomic Blonde"), more business merger than love match. The adult complications distract everyone from Georges's latest adventure, Eve his accomplice.
If Haneke's last film was called "Amour," "Happy End" dissects the fallout of a lack of it. The mercy killing Georges admits to is a seed sprouted into something far more malevolent in his progeny (Trintignant and young Harduin make for quite the compelling pair). The film ends as it began, Eve's video revealing the slapstick farce that is her family.
Robin also gives "Happy End" a B.
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