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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 3 years ago

'Happy End' is confrontational, confusing and thought-provoking

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Fantine Harduin steals every scene in which she appears in this unhappy drama about a group of broken people.

Writer-director Michael Haneke is not known for being subtle when exploring the human condition. But to fully grasp the rewards which his new film, "Happy End," provide, pay attention.

Set in present day Calais, France, a wealthy family's outward appearance belies a festering malaise that permeates its foundation. Lots of seemingly little events confronting the Laurents add up to one really messed up group of individuals.

Eve (Fantine Harduin), a 12-year-old granddaughter of senile, suicidal George (John-Louis Trintignant), daughter to adulterer, Thomas (Mattieu Kassovitz) and niece of matriarch, Anne (Isabelle Huppert), has just killed her hamster and possibly poisoned her mother via Snapchat.

Sent to live with her father and new wife, Eve follows dad's online, sexually explicit affair with another woman. Fearing he'll leave his new wife for the girlfriend and abandon her, Eve attempts suicide. Soon after she bonds with grandpa and he tells her how he smothered his wife.

There's more. Anne's son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), is an alcoholic ne'er-do-well working for the family business who has an overwhelming compassion for the migrant refugees residing near their neighborhood. His unexpected, unsettling outbursts are becoming frequent.

Haneke ("Funny Games,""Amour") obviously has a lot on his mind which he unloads into this confrontational and sometimes confusing film. He suggests that greed, politics, modern technology and racism may all be contributing factors in the disintegration of this morally bereft family. But, perhaps, on a larger scale are they just a microcosm of the bigger picture? "Happy End" is rife with metaphors to ponder.

It's also teeming with great performances by Huppert, Trintignant and Kassovitz. But it's Fantine Harduin who steals every scene in which she appears. At age thirteen, her ability to brilliantly display a range of emotions, some quite disturbing, is extraordinary.

"Happy End" doesn't have one. It ends just as it began, No one's better off or worse. Haneke has made it quite clear that change is elusive for this group of broken people.

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