Photo contributed The cast of Happy End gathers during this black family drama.

Column: Happy End has a dark side

The irony of the movie Happy End is that it doesn’t provide one, although perhaps all of the characters might wish for one.

The Langlois family is wealthy, cultured, and living in a bubble on their rich estate in Calais, France. But they are all dysfunctional and seemingly besieged by trouble. Our introduction to the family is via 12-year-old Eve, a confused and damaged soul and a sociopath in the making, who feeds her hamster human meds and may or may not have been the cause of her mother’s hospitalization.

She comes to the family estate to live with her father, a doctor with a picture-perfect second family yet secretly sexting with a mistress. He is the son of the patriarch George who is feeling his age and the loss of his memory and has a resolve to die by whatever means necessary.

Rounding out the family is George’s daughter, Anne, who is relatively normal, but worried about keeping the family business afloat and the mental well-being of her deadbeat son, Pierre. A workplace accident that resulted in a fatality may have been Pierre’s doing and the business’s undoing as lawsuits are pending. Through all this, the bourgeois family perseveres, morally indifferent to any human casualties that might interfere with its routine and turning a blind eye to the refugee crisis taking place on their doorstep.

Rather disjointed at first, as Austrian Director Michael Haneke sometimes abruptly shifts from scene to scene, it takes a while to get the relationships and dynamics figured out.

He peels back the layers on his characters with some unconventional cinematographic methods including using cell phone and security video and shots from afar where we are distant witnesses to the action. Haneke is not a fan of the isolation and disconnection brought about by our modern addiction to screens and uses it as a way to reveal the family’s detachment from each other, themselves and the world outside. Happy End is not without humour although it tends to be of the darkish kind.

87-year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant is excellent as George, as is Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) as Anne. Newcomer Fantine Harduin who plays the child Eve is outstanding, subtly revealing the darkness behind her innocent face. Happy End was selected as Austria’s entry for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards but was not nominated.

Rated 14A, Happy End shows Saturday Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. at the Salmar Classic.

And set aside time next week to see some of the great movies at our International Film Festival from Feb. 16 to 24.

– Submitted by Joanne Sargent

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