The film centres around the haphazard lives of the Laurent family. Not soon after Eve had filmed her mother, had she taken an overdose and wound up in hospital, leaving the young girl to stay with her father Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) who she barely knows, in their grandiose abode in Calais. He’s a doctor attempting to form a semblance of a bond between himself and his offspring, while seemingly indulging in an illicit affair online with a woman who isn’t his wife.
His sister Anne (Isabelle Huppert) has got problems of her own to contend with, when there’s a fatal landslide at the construction site owned by the family, of which she heads up, also involving her renegade, alcoholic son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski). Meanwhile the head of the family is the patriarchal presence of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) – but just to ensure that nobody in the Laurent family is happy in life, he too seems intent on heading down the path of self-destruction.
Like with so many of this venerable filmmaker’s endeavours, he leaves the viewer the freedom to piece this narrative together, giving us so little in the opening act as we have to figure out how everything, and everyone ties together. But the sense of disorientation is a not only a blessing but a curse, for the film is distinctly lacking in focus, without a palpable protagonist for us to root for, somebody to shoulder the emotional investment from the viewer.
There is plenty to be admired about Happy End, with a collection of strong performances by an impressive ensemble (which also consists of British actor Toby Jones, who never disappoints) – but it’s just lacking that something special. Had it been any other director it’s a film that would be receiving more praise than it’s currently getting, but the bar Haneke has set for himself is so incredibly high, and his films so frustratingly far apart, that anything less than a masterpiece feels like something of a missed opportunity.