[Marxism] Happy End

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 6 10:44:28 MST 2017

Peter Byrne is an old friend who wrote for Swans as the same time as me. 
This is his astute comment on Michael Haneke's "Happy End":

An Italian critic wondered why Michael Haneke was still hitting at the 
upper-middle-class. Luis Bunuel, he said, had done the job a half 
century ago. The critic missed the point of the disparate videos shown 
at the start of ‘Happy End’. They demonstrate that our world has made 
great strides in triviality, numbed values and inhumanity. In the same 
way the ultra-smooth damage control of the industrialist Madame Laurent 
(Isabelle Huppert) is much more efficient than that of Bunuel’s time.

When he (or Pasolini or Visconti) threw a grenade into a bourgeois 
salon, it caused a stir. There was a reaction. Money power and control 
are now more confident. When the rebel son of the Laurent family brings 
a bevy of black refugees into the clan’s formal dinner at a luxury 
restaurant, the seated guests don’t miss a bite. The young man is led 
away defeated and his mother calls for a table for the intruders. In a 
Bunuel story they would have got thrown out or have taken over the place.

Not that Madame Laurent will invite them back. She runs the firm and is 
busy with lawyers evading responsibility over the death of an employee 
in an worksite accident. Her response is just as smooth when her 
Moroccan servant’s daughter is bitten by a household dog. A box of 
chocolates, the bite declared a scratch, and business as usual.

Grandfather Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) injects some humanity into 
the family circle. However, it could be mere senile aberration. After 
all isn’t he the source of the Laurent fortune? His disgust with his 
family may be just an old man’s bile. In any case his overriding wish is 
simply to die. Here he rejoins the character Trintignant played in 
Haneke’s masterpiece of 2012, ‘Amour’. There the middle-class was not 
under fire but merely furnished the film with a social setting. (For all 
his social criticism Haneke is an aesthete and delights in filming elite 

‘Amour’ is the story of a very old couple who live in an atmosphere of 
sober affection. The woman (the magnificent Emmanuelle Riva from the 
1959 ‘Hiroshima mon amour’) has a debilitating stroke. Her husband 
(Trintignant) gives her very personal care, but she’s reduced to being a 
conscious vegetable. She wants to die, her husband wants her to live, 
but after soul-searching he smothers her with a pillow, as it were, with 
love. The film throws a sharp light on the controversy much discussed in 
Europe just now of assisted suicide.

Grandfather Laurent in Haneke’s ‘Happy End’ has some fleeting moments of 
confidence with his thirteen-year-old granddaughter. The girl has been 
deeply upset by her father’s two marriages and by his latest affair 
whose physical side she found documented in detail on his computer. This 
drives her to attempt suicide. Haneke’s astuteness here is remarkable. 
The thirteen-year-old isn’t a neglected child. She wants nothing 
materially and her father is in fact concerned for her feelings. But he 
expresses his concern in the same way that Madame Laurent exercises 
damage control for the firm. Her Grandfather asks her in a casual tone 
about her attempt at suicide and tells her he’s planning to make his own 
a success. He also tells her that he smothered his stricken and 
suffering wife. (But he’s an old man other than the old man in ‘Amour’.)

In a moment of domestic confusion, Granddad, confined to a wheelchair, 
asked his granddaughter to push him to the top of a slope by the sea. 
She steps back and he propels himself into the water. As he goes under 
the girl takes a photograph with her cellphone. She belongs to her times 
just like the videos at the film’s start.

This isn’t a movie for the Christmas season. It’s too true for that.

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