Cinematic Releases: Happy End (2017) - Reviewed

Every morning, I rise from my queen size, pillow top bed, shower using my high-end hair and skin products, and dress myself in name brand clothing. I then get into my very own automobile and drive myself to a hip coffee shop, for my daily dose of caffeine, before heading to my very comfortable, high paying, Southern California job. And as I am waiting for my over-priced, vanilla soy late, I scroll through the latest social media memes and updates, using my iPhoneX, with my brand new Vans out of focus in the background.

Simultaneously, as run through these activities of my very privileged, first world existence, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. 22.5 million of those are refugees. 10 million of those are currently stateless with only, roughly, 200,000 having been resettled. The state of our western lives allows us to block out these statistics with unsettling ease. I guarantee, almost everyone reading this now spends more time fretting over their Instagram feed than the refugee crisis. We care more about our vacation photos, and selfies, than the millions of human beings struggling to survive on a daily basis. It's down right repulsive if you allow yourself to think about it, and I'm not the only person who thinks so.

Michael Haneke's latest film Happy End is an unflinching criticism of the western world's approach to the refugee crisis. The film focuses on the lives of the very affluent, Laurent family, living in the port city of Calais, France, who's comings and goings are reduced to being online content for the youngest of the family, teenage Eve (Fantine Harduin). Characteristic of other Haneke films, Happy End is less of a narrative than it is a mosaic of scenes, that feel more like cycling through television channels than following a story. This style feels appropriate, seeing as the social media obsessed west conducts itself like Marie Antionette on a 24 hour news cycle.

“Let them eat cake” is screamed into the faces of the audience, as this characteristically dark auteur calls attention to the refugees living in Calais, by almost ignoring them. As Anne (Isabelle Huppert), Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), and Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) coast through their daily routines in an almost monotone manner, it is only Pierre Laurent (Franz Rogowski) who seems to notice the crisis taking place pretty much on their doorstep. This causes him to become depressed and lash out in the only fashion a privileged, man baby does, with self-destructive disruption. When asked about Happy End, Haneke explains “I’m concerned with holding up a mirror to society”, because, “I wanted to show how people in first world countries deal, or don’t deal, with the problems facing the rest of the world.”

Happy End is a film everyone should see once. Not only because I am a fan of Michael Haneke's work but because this film is successful in doing what all quality art should do, which is to make one reflect on themselves and their surrounding world. It may not have the power to change the collective apathy of the west, but it will definitely make you, as an individual, acutely aware of the dysfunction in which we all subscribe whenever we pull our phones out of our pockets. 

Share this review.

-Dawn Stronski