If you are at all familiar with the work of the two-time Oscar nominated Austrian filmmaker Michael Hanake then you will know that the very last thing he ever gives us is a happy end. This new movie of his, essentially a rather disparate domestic melodrama that focuses on a wealthy bourgeois dysfunctional family living together in a mansion in Calais, is no different. In fact there is very little sign of any joy throughout the whole piece.
The 86 year patriarch Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) buried his wife some years ago, and now is somewhat obsessed with ending his own life. His daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert who also played Trintignant’s daughter in Hanake’s ‘Amour’) is a pushy real-estate developer who, when she is not wheeling and dealing, has taken to whispering sweet nothings on the phone to an English lover. We assume it is Lawrence Bradshaw (Toby Jones) a lawyer she is very close too, but in typical Hanake fashion, we are left to try and work that out for ourselves.
Anne’s sibling Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) a neurosurgeon also lives in the house with his second wife and their baby son, but he cannot be faithful to her or his mistress. His peace is shattered when is ex-wife is rushed into hospital after she has been poisoned (we think) by their rather melancholic 13 year old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) who now has to move in him.
Then there is Anne’s moody adult son Pierre (Franz Rogowski ) who works with her even though they cannot see eye t0 eye on anything, and so are constantly squabbling.
The family only seems to get together for meals in their formal dining room where most things are left unsaid, and they are waited on hand and foot by a married Moroccan couple, who Pierre insists of referring to as the family’s slaves.
Hanake has set the drama in Calais because the streets are swarming with immigrants hoping to be able to cross over the the U.K., and this makes such a vivid contrast to the Laurents very privileged existence. However it seems like it is only Pierre who is even aware of them and he insists on bringing a group of homeless immigrants to crash a formal banquet that Annie is hosting in one of Calais’s smarter hotels. Yet just to add yet another red herring into the convoluted plot, Pierre also gets badly beaten up by another immigrant that he seems to know.
Then after young Eve attempts suicide, her Grandfather starts to warm to her as if they now have something in common.
This is the third Haneka movie that Huppet has starred in, and although this is hardly as tumultuous as The Piano Teacher , a real breakthrough role for her, she is at least very familiar with his very obtuse plots. They can be quite maddening at time, and the fact that all the characters in Happy End have secrets that they are hiding from everyone , certainly didn’t help.
Blessed with a very talented cast , Haneka’s movie is (as always) intriguing and entertaining, but without a single likable character it is not as compelling as it could and should have been.