Austrian director Michael Haneke is an awards season and festival darling, having won two Golden Globes and having been nominated for two Oscars. He likes to shoot his films in France, which might explain his seven Palme d’Or and Grand Prix wins in Cannes. Happy End reunites him with his favorite actress, too: Isabelle Huppert stars in the film alongside another Haneke favorite and her co-star in his film Amour, Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Set against the backdrop of the European refugee crisis, Happy End tells the story of a family living in their own little bourgeois world in Calais, completely oblivious to the human drama happening all around them. So caught up are they in their own business and businesses, that even the teenage trials and tribulations of their thirteen-year-old daughter, niece and granddaughter escape their attention. Never mind that the film opens with a video shot on iPhone that reveals the girl putting the mother she hates into a coma, we still sympathize with her character more than with the others. She goes to live with her father Thomas (Matthieu Kassowitz) and his new wife. Meanwhile, Anne, Thomas’ sister played by Huppert, deals with a potential lawsuit and a raging alcoholic son named Pierre who – in the spirit of the old saying "only fools and drunks tell the truth" does exactly that. He is the one rubbing his clueless family’s snobbish noses in what is really going on outside of their bubble.
Anne and Thomas’ father (Trintignant) is suffering from dementia and is confined to a wheelchair. If this reminds you of his character in Amour, well, that is probably intentional on the director’s part. Haneke, not known for warm and fuzzy films, is not trying to get audiences to like any of these people. He leaves it completely up to us to pass judgment on them. In his typical wide angles, particularly for pivotal scenes, he creates a distance to his characters. The film has been called an "icy satire" but do not confuse this with a comedy, even though a scene at the end might make you chuckle.