[Marxism] Happy End
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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