I watch a lot of YouTube. And I watch a lot of rubbish on the internet. I watch a lot of anything that gets reposted to the front of my eyes on social media. I also like a lot of cinema: I have a big interest in filmmaking, I like to go to the pictures when I can, and one of my favourite things to do is watch Alien. And Toy Story… So why do I feel like I’ve been punished after watching Michael Haneke’s latest family drama Happy End?
Thomas Laurent owns part of the shares of a business firm which is unfortunately involved in an accident hospitalising someone who’s unlucky enough to use a porta-loo situated on ground that collapses from beneath him. During this time, Eve, Thomas’s daughter, whom he’s not been in contact with for about ten years, is forced to move into his grand estate and share with his family after her mother is taken to hospital due to an overdose.
This film examines family relationships, love, and the depression that lives in the cracks of it all. Themes of suicide, death, and the legacy that gets passed on down the family are explored. We see four generations of family within the house, all of which have their own justifiable issues and all have their own unjust ways of dealing with them.
But, from the offset this film feels weird. And it eventually becomes clear that is not going to be your ordinary cinematic experience. It is a rather bizarre film because very little happens. There is not a lot that is particularly engaging, or even particularly exciting, and the film clearly makes a lot of effort to be minimally engaging, which makes it rather intriguing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big fan of the film and I don’t think I’m really going to recommend it, but I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been on my mind since watching it.
It highlights you, the viewer, focussing on this film. Literally a mirror held up in front of your face but without seeing yourself in it
The acting is really quite deadpan. The cinematography feels simple but makes for some lovely stills and nice transitions that mirror previous scenes. However, in addition, there is an interesting exploration of cameras in the film: cameras in the story, and cameras used to shoot the film itself. Eve uses her phone quite a lot and also finds solace in YouTube and online videos. But, directorially, the actors also have this strange relationship with the cameras that are filming. A lot of characters enter the frame from behind the camera, or will walk toward the camera as the camera backs away. Haneke also makes reflections and mirrors prominently displayed on screen. The camera faces a mirror a noticeable amount, but no matter how much you search, you won’t be able to find any continuity errors. Instead it highlights you, the viewer, focussing on this film. Literally a mirror held up in front of your face but without seeing yourself in it. So I couldn’t help but reflect on my own opinions of the film and the characters in it. Reflection being a clear theme of the film overall.
So as young Eve watches flashy YouTubers, and cements rather bleak moments in her life with her camera phone, I put myself in her place and think how the purpose of a camera is changing in today’s society and how our expectation of it is changing too. More importantly how it angers us when a camera is not used how we want it to be.
Happy End is pretty doom and gloom, and very little happens, so maybe we should just watch YouTube instead.
Happy End is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday, December 14th