“Happy End” is the cinematic equivalent of taking a selfie but unintentionally capturing a murder or marriage proposal in the corner of your grin. Nearly every shot is framed to reveal as little of the plot as possible, with our eyes looking in the corners and crevices, hoping to figure out exactly what’s going on. It’s a clever but overused technique from writer and director Michael Haneke, where he makes us feel as emotionally distanced from his characters from the beginning to the unhappy end.
You could argue, though, this is exactly the point Haneke is trying to get across. The qualms and quibbles of the wealthy, white Laurent family are given full-frame attention, while most appearances or indications of refugees happen out of focus. It could also be argued that the sense of detachment we as an audience feel with these characters, struggling to live with one another after a recent death and business accident, is supposed to reflect the sense of detachment that the young Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin) and the old Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) feel from pretty much everyone and everything.
Or it could be that this just isn’t that great of a movie. “Happy End” gives us so many puzzles to solve and comprehend that we’re unable to enjoy the moment when they are solved. It’s like solving a Rubik’s cube, but instead of celebrating, Haneke shows up and gives you another one to figure out. The movie then feels less and less clever and more of a bore.
Isabelle Huppert is a delight as Anne, and Mathieu is uncompromising as Thomas. The best relationship is between Eve and Georges, two damaged, unsympathetic characters who seem to find annoyed solace in each other. The movie criticizes of iPhone voyeurism and social media communication, arguing they are an enabler or perhaps the sole cause of disturbing, sociopathic behaviors. That might be true, but the only certainty with “Happy End” is that you’ll be happy when its done.