Day Three of the Leeds International Film Festival brought the first screening of Michael Haneke’s (Amour, Cache, Funny Games) new family drama Happy End. Starring French acting stalwarts Isabelle Huppert and Mathieu Kassovitz as well as British character actor Toby Jones in a small role, the film follows the various members of the Laurent family in the aftermath of two crises that occur on the same day.
Haneke is one of the finest filmmakers working today and has directed some very impressive films. Cache is one of the best films released this century and Amour is close behind it. It has been five years since Amour, but Happy End was worth waiting for – another excellent film in Haneke’s filmography.
The pacing of the film takes a lot of getting used to. Haneke uses lots of long static takes and slow pacing to immerse you in his world and the lives of its characters and for the first half hour, this is difficult to get a handle on. There is no constant plot thread to really engage with and so it takes some time to get going. However, when it does, there are so many brilliant moments and scenes to savour. The pacing becomes almost hypnotic and the realism of the characters and stories is gripping.
Some of the film relies heavily on modern forms of communication technology (Snapchat, Facebook etc) and Haneke, who is reputed to have little time for social media has clearly done his homework to ensure he understands what it is all about in order to make the film more realistic. This attention to detail transfers to the rest of the film. Every shot, camera move and change of scene is purposeful. His use of symbolism and metaphor is extremely subtle and doesn’t overshadow the rest of the film.
The performances are uniformly magnificent. Isabelle Huppert is a commanding presence as the matriarch of the Laurent family and brings a depth and individually to her role. Her character is not the stereotypical cinematic maternal figure, she is neither icy cold and cruel, nor eccentric and domesticated. Matthieu Kassiovitz is also brilliant as Thomas, the emotionally distant father of Eva, the nominal protaganist.
However, the two standouts are Fantine Harduin as Eva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, Huppert’s father. These two become the focus of the film and their sad, powerful chemistry is really what drives the film through most of its slow patches. Harduin is one of the most promising child actors around based on this performance and deserves to have a long career ahead of her. Trintignant, who also starred in Haneke’s Amour with Huppert, brings a similar level of charisma and gravitas to this role.
Overall, Happy End is another sterling film from Michael Haneke. It isn’t as powerful as Cache or Amour but it is very impressive and lingers with you long after its credits have rolled. Have patience with it and it will reward you in unexpected ways. Coming up in our coverage of LIFF 31 is Call Me By Your Name, Beast, Dark River and an assortment of films from Animation Sunday.
Happy End is screening as part of Leeds International Film Festival. For tickets visit LeedsFilmCity.com. Image source BBC.com