Cannes: "Happy End"

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Michael Haneke's "Happy End" was, across the board, the most anticipated film at Cannes 2017. Coming off his last two films, "The White Ribbon," and "Amour," which both won the Palme D'O'r, expectations for this latest film were sky high. Some were saying they never saw a lineup, outside the famous De Bussy theater, as big as the one for last evening's press screening.

"Happy End," as it turns out, will be divisive, but it's also the film that Haneke needed to make at this stage in his career, a sort of reinvention that tackles his obsessive, familiar themes, but feels purposely polarizing and creatively freeing for Haneke. in its lack of a narrative structure. Yes, "Happy End" even has comedic moments, a rarity for the venerable Austrian filmmaker whose reputation has been that of heavy, morosely-driven dramas. The film stars Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Matthieu Kassovitz and revolves around a dysfunctional family falling apart. Each have their own problems and, yet, the represent what is wrong with the bourgeoisie these days: all pent-up, airless frustration at the most unimportant topics. The film is reminiscent of a Luis Bunuel's provoking cinema of the 1970's. The film might as well be called "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie."

In fact, this is Haneke's most meta movie, a self-referential farce about all the themes that he's tackled so far in his illustrious career. At this morning's press conference for the film, journalists were eagerly waiting to ask the pertinent, answer-less questions the film asks and, of course, Haneke refused to abide and said the art spoke for itself "I do not want to answer that kind of question. I have shown this at times and it is up to you to have your own interpretation. In my staging, I try to give clues to the spectators and leave the work in the hearts of the spectators. I hope that I go through life with open eyes. And we can not talk about today's society without mentioning the blindness in which we live. I never look for a theme, it bothers me. One must be touched by something to be able to write things a little deeper."

Although it is better not reveal too much of the story, the film has a particularly memorable scene involving refugees at a wedding. What does Haneke have to say about the presence of the refugees in that particular scene and the fact that it's located in the well known refugee encampment of Calais? The director left us again with an ambiguous response "Naturally this film leaves a certain bitterness in the way in which one lives. But this is not a film about a French problem. Calais, it is everywhere in Europe. Our subject is rather our way of life."

The film tackles many topics, especially the way we communicate through gadgets, and the many ways social media has made the world a far more connected place, but, also, one where feelings and emotions can go numb through indirect contact. The film's characters text profanity and violence, but never are condemned or reprimanded for their actions Haneke isn't surprised by this fascination for the topic as he has always spoken in his films about the way communication can blur the lines between right and wrong: "Since my first film I've had themes and the media and the way we communicate, but that isn't the principal theme of the movie, in fact, I hope the viewer comes out of it thinking there isn't a principal theme to my movie."

Although he's always been secretive with how his creative process works, how does such a polarizing script come to be created? According to Haneke it was a freewheeling style of writing that made "Happy End" happen, one in which simplicity and provocation had to merge: "We collect colors for a character and at the same time, we are building a real plot. Although in this film there is no real plot, it is a story that is finally quite simple. With each film, I work differently. But before writing the scenes and the dialogues, I try to have the architecture of the scenario. My goal is always to tell as little as possible to provoke the maximum in simplicity."

Almost every question was directed at Haneke or was about Haneke. Jean-Louis Trintignant had nothing, but praise for his director, whom he also worked with in "Amour," a film which "Happy End" is almost a spiritual sequel to in the way it deals with the grieving process "it doesn't matter if it's only one line, i'll do everything for Haneke" said the legendary 86 year-old actor whose performance in the film is better than his work in "Amour," "It's a pleasure to work with Michael, that's all I have to say. I find that he makes his films according to the data of this current political climate."

Isabelle Huppert and Matthieu Kassovitz, playing husband and wife in "Happy End," both spoke eloquently about the master. Huppert has now made 4 movies with Haneke and, based on her past and current experience, she says the creative freedom on-set with Haneke is contagious "There is a great deal of detail in what Michael suggests to us. But total freedom is the corollary of precision, as with any great director. It's very easy to work with him. What characterizes him is the precision of the frame. I made four films with him. What I feel physically is how this framework induces this way of playing. It is framed with such precision that there is a completely natural circulation between the actors. From this precision, one feels completely free." Kassovitz, on the other hand, has made his first movie with the director and says that he grew as an actor on-set: "We were a little sponges to be able to understand what he wanted and try to reconstitute it in the most free way possible. I think we must love the films of Michael Haneke to shoot a film of Haneke. And to have attended the manufacturing process made me better understand the films I have already seen. There is a true pure love of cinema that I rarely saw in a director. For any actor who works with a master, these are things that make you grow."

As for the film's perplexing final few scenes, which involve the kind of dark comedy that has not been attempted by the director since the 1990's, Trintignant explained how those days of shooting went: "We shot the end of the film in three days. The ending is rather ambiguous, maybe it's a happy ending or an unfortunate ending, but my rule is anything Michael (Haneke) does will be good!" Trintignant exclaimed as he and the audience laughed. The actor went on to say that the film's final scene, which had him shooting in not the most convenient of condition for a man his age, was met with hesitation at first from the legendary actor, but was eventually done after the actor gave Haneke one condition that had to be met "if we shoot it, can we please skip Cannes?"

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