Happy End


* * * *

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.

Beauty And Sadness

Amour ***** (out of five)

amour-movie-poster-2It’s tempting to go overboard writing about Amour: “Master movie-maker Michael Haneke masterminds a masterclass in masterful masterpiece making!” But the fact is, it’s pretty much a perfect film on every level. Structurally assured, perfectly acted, and deeply moving, it tells a simple tale, and in doing so examines the absolute extremes of its theme, which is also its title: Love.

amour-movie-poster-11The central dramatic question is straight-forward: what do you do when your lifelong partner starts to rapidly deteriorate before you do?  Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play George and Anne, two sophisticated, retired music teachers in their eighties. At the beginning of the film they are still sprightly, going out to see a former student’s performance, taking the tram home. They are as we may all want to be in our dessert days, namely, still deeply in love, and capable of being all the other needs to fill out their days. But then Anne has a stroke, and from there, Georges must face her deterioration as he himself remains healthy.

No more of the plot should be revealed, because it is going on Georges’ journey that forms the film, and it is sublimely told. Hanneke, who wrote the screenplay, has realized that, rather than sequences and acts, this is a story of moments, and he chooses all the right ones to portray his subject with absolute thematic depth. They have a daughter (Isabelle Huppert, perfect); she’s going to “want them to do more”: that’s a moment we need to see, and we see it. Likewise, at one point Georges has to fire a nurse: it’s a moment filled with so much to say about what it is to grow old, it’s astonishing.

Haneke and his Palme D'Or at Cannes 2012
Haneke and his Palme D’Or at Cannes 2012

But the most moving scenes are those when it’s just Georges and Anne alone. Both actors give perfect natural performances; it’s Georges’ story but Anne, of course, has to deteriorate; they both deserve all the awards and praise they’ve been receiving (Riva is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar; Trintignant should have been for Best Actor).

If all this sounds depressing, it’s actually not. It’s sad, of course, but that’s different. It’s also astoundingly thought-provoking and gorgeously shot. It’s beautiful. See it with someone you love.

Movie 43 * (out of five)

They all knew they should never have done MOVIE 43.

MV5BMTg4NzQ3NDM1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjEzMjM3OA@@._V1_SX214_Movie 43, a set of gross-out sketches padded with a silly overarching story and performed by a galaxy of A List Stars, is depressing. Shoddily made but, worse, absolutely appallingly written from first sketch to last, it’s a complete fiasco, a dreadful, obnoxious, deeply embarrassing disaster from start (Hugh Jackman has testicles hanging from his neck!) to finish (Josh Duhamel’s cat anally pleasures himself while raping a teddy bear!) My hopes that it just might be so over-the-top it would work were dashed in the first minutes, and it never got better. Besides the dreadful writing of the sketches (sorry, did I mention that this movie is horribly written?), these actors are not Will Ferrell, Jack Black and Steve Carrell. This is obviously all of them, in a sense, screen-testing to become Big Screen Comedy Stars, and, let’s be honest, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Dennis Quaid (he’s the worst of all) – that’s not gonna happen.43.rMovie-43_11Screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-1.42.25-PMelizabeth-banks-movie-43










To be honest, I laughed three times, but once was just at the sheer idea that the “joke” I’d just seen was even meant to be a joke, so that doesn’t really count. The movie stinks; it’s even at times legitimately offensive. Horrible. Avoid like the plague it is.