Happy End is the Haneke film no one’s talking about. Aggregate consensus has unassembled the art into a 68% on “Rottentomatoes” and a 73% on “Metacritic” which is supposed to translate to, as we’ve learned from the regular return of graded tests, a lukewarm or disappointed self-reflection. But this is Haneke. We expect an A; so a cold served C feels like emotional subterfuge.
But - this is Haneke - and if you resist the urge to relegate the film to numbers, or an alphabet, the small stroke of a master might not articulate to ‘sleight’ but to ‘adroit’. And so we’ve done the critic’s frivolity of not only assigning, but distinguishing between labels. Whew! That’s a double days work.
So what the hell can you do? I’ll convert Haneke’s language, from a specific scene to words. An acquiescent gesture; what’s said without words is never so eloquent told with them.
The Scene: We watch an old rich man, George Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant), become detained to a wheelchair after an incident his family pretends was an accident. He wheels himself down the sidewalk with a busy street bustling in the foreground, and requests something presumptuous from a group of black men who’re taken aback by the ask. Plied with rejection, he offers them his gold plated watch. They refuse.
The blocking is so that George is at a distance and often obscured by overlapping vehicles. The passing motors hum over his soundscape and swallow up the dialogue; the world composed around him, so fast, vicious, and frame-consuming that he seems to snail across the sidewalk. Without words, we understand what this man, who felt trapped even before his two-wheel confinement, must feel. Helpless, and inapt; ignorant, to assume a black man desperate enough to help him end his life. Yes, we know exactly what George has requested, the response, and the bewilderment, without hearing a single word -- despite how mosaic and absurd.
George forms half the film’s gaily gilded, but atrous-cored heart. The other half, another Anubis Haneke child named Eve, has a macabre to match, or even trounce, the 86 year old man’s at thirteen. What these two characters share, in our innocence, we don’t envisage. For an idea: Their connection starts at failed suicide attempts.
Mr Haneke has learned to relay volumes about his characters in fewer shots and fewer lines. Sneeze, and you’ll miss it; every second here is dense. This may be cause for the labels currently standing in for criticism that you’ll find in reviews like “flatness,” “pointless,” “disjointed,” “minor, uninteresting,” “hard to like” and my favorite logline, “There seems to be something missing here.”
I’m wondering if, in their inevitable festival-induced stupor, they just didn’t catch on. An understandable stupor, of course, and an impression I can grasp. And… But. Hold on… I’m running behind on my next review. I’ve yet to delineate the line between its social comment and the black sheep son Pierre. I’ve yet to discuss the undiscussed possibility that Eve poisoned her own mother. For that matter, I’ve hardly talked about the wealthy family at its center, the performances, Isabelle Huppert, or the wrly sun bathed photography: the white decor, and their black intrusion. Hell, have I even made a critique?
But, a letter grade? A number? Well, class, as a collective we didn’t do so hot here. The bell's gonna ring... I’ll curve this "C" to a B?