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Michael Haneke can be funny, and his latest feature, Happy End, is an actual comedy, albeit of the driest, blackest kind. It certainly ends on a brilliant gag, one that caps off the entire film like a perfect punchline, and which, I’m sure, has Haneke giggling on the inside: “See? I gave you a happy end!”
This isn’t his only joke on us. His bigger one is that Happy End is, amazingly, a sequel to Amour (2012), which, if you remember the deep sadness of that film, represents a tonal / genre shift on the scale of Aliens and Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.
Of course, happiness is not the dominant mood amongst the characters of any Haneke film, and so it isn’t here. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), having lost his wife in Amour and now confined to a wheelchair and struggling with the onset of dementia himself, is done with this thing called life. His big, beautiful house in Calais is filled with his kids Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and Thomas (Mathieu Kossovitz), who are having problems with their own kids, and the family business is in trouble. Meanwhile, the streets of Calais are filling with refugees. For myriad reasons, and despite the trappings of wealth, everyone in the family is struggling.
They’re selling Happy End as a satire of the bourgeois, and that works as well as anything, although they might have tried pushing the wacky old man trying to off himself a little more and gone for the 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared crowd. Haneke’s audience will come as a matter of course and they won’t be disappointed. As other critics have noted, Happy End feels a little like a greatest hits album, with many of Haneke’s thematic concerns and directorial flourishes fully present. The more you know his work, the more you’ll enjoy this one, because the more you’ll get the inside jokes. The opening shot is brilliantly witty, but it’s downright piquant if you’ve seen Caché.