An unyielding staple on the festival circuit, French acting legend Isabelle Huppert headlines two international dramas on the Croisette this year: Master Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s beguiling critique of bourgeois society, Happy End, and another collaboration with South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, Claire’s Camera. As per usual, the 64-year-old Cannes royal is drawing enthusiastic reviews for her work in both projects, which premiered over the weekend.
Happy End marks renowned provocateur Haneke’s first major feature since 2012’s Amour, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on top of nods for best picture, best actress, best original screenplay, and best director. Huppert starred in that film as Eva Laurent, the daughter of an aging couple (the late Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant) disintegrating in the wake of the matriarch’s declining health. Both Trintignant and Huppert return for Happy End, a thematic sequel to Amour (their characters retain the same last name as those in Haneke’s previous directorial effort) that’s eliciting similar praise for its unflattering portrayal of high society.
“Happy End is a satirical nightmare of haute-bourgeois European prosperity: as stark, brilliant and unforgiving as a halogen light. It is not a new direction for this film-maker, admittedly, but an existing direction pursued with the same dazzling inspiration as ever. It is also as gripping as a satanically inspired soap opera, a dynasty of lost souls,” Peter Bradshaw writes in his enthusiastic, five-star review for The Guardian.
IndieWire‘s Eric Kohn, giving the film an A- grade, calls Happy End Haneke’s “most extreme vision” of characters in despair to date, pushing the material “into a maze of tonal possibilities, veering from hypnotic monologues about tragic feelings to twisted developments that venture into the realm of dark comedy” with a strong payoff after following a wealthy family fronted by a now-senile patriarch, George (Trintignant), while his daughter (Huppert) navigates various professional and familial woes, from her reckless son, Pierre, to the clan’s successful construction company.
Singling out Huppert as one of the film’s many assets, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Deborah Young calls Anne “one of Huppert’s stronger characters,” adding that the sentiment is “saying a lot” given the actress’ prolific work on the big screen. Still, despite Huppert’s consistently arresting work and the film’s technical graces, critics seem to be, as is typical when Haneke releases a new project, slightly exhausted by his relentlessly chilly style.
“Though Haneke hasn’t provided enough context for us to understand what we’re watching, that doesn’t stop him from reprimanding us for what he perceives as our twisted sense of voyeurism,” Variety‘s Peter Debruge observes. “To some extent, Happy End serves to update Haneke’s VHS-era provocation Benny’s Video (1992), also shot by Berger, as the director indicts Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube as platforms that propagate such sociopathic behavior (which may be true to an extent, but rather naively excludes the many ways social media has made the world a more connected and potentially empathetic place as well).”
Perhaps The Wrap‘s Ben Croll best sums it up, writing of the project’s potentially divisive resonance: “Of all the Cannes Film Festival’s favorite sons, Michael Haneke seems the most likely to make festival history and win an unprecedented third Palme d’Or. Now that we’ve seen Happy End we can say that statement remains truer than ever. It just probably won’t be for this one.”
Though only Happy End occupies a competitive slot at the festival’s 2017 edition, the mere presence of Claire’s Camera on the Croisette only adds to Huppert’s prestige as a beloved fixture of the long-running festival. Plus, Huppert’s new bestie Jessica Chastain is on the jury, meaning the 64-year-old — who just came off perhaps the best year of her career after garnering her first Oscar nod for Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, which debuted in competition at Cannes’ 2016 event — could very well be looking at her third Best Actress trophy, a feat that would make her the winningest female performer in Cannes history.
While the Academy was late to the Huppert party in the first place, better late than never, and she’s on their radar now more than ever before. Claire’s Camera, which was filmed during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, seems destined to go down as a peripheral specialty release without making much of a splash, though Sony Pictures Classics is expected to distribute Happy End in North America later this year, which means Huppert could be eligible to compete for an Oscar yet again.
Though Elle‘s buzzy premise (it concerns an older woman playing an unorthodox game involving sex and revenge after being raped) made headlines at Cannes last year, Happy End still seems less likely to wedge itself into good standing with the Academy’s commercial crowd. That’s thanks to Haneke’s traditionally frosty touch — which melted (albeit only slightly) just enough for Oscar voters to herald Amour (still a disturbing portrait of age-based anxieties in itself) — and complex, challenging, layered vision that, by all critical accounts, is most interested in prodding its audience. If anything, Huppert’s best shot at awards attention for this project will be confined to home turf at Cannes.
Read on to find out what else critics are saying about Happy End and Claire’s Camera in the review excerpts below.
Deborah Young (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Haneke’s dry filming style and geometrically balanced framing are, as always, a great pleasure to watch, creating not just an unsettling atmosphere but revealing hidden meanings, along with Christian Berger’s crisp and businesslike lighting, Olivier Radot’s stylish set design and editor Monika Willi’s near-perfect cutting.”
Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
“It takes close to an hour for the strands of this multifaceted world to come together, but once it does, the movie becomes an engrossing portrait of how this constant infighting has drained any semblance of warmth from the family tree. The movie functions as a quasi-sequel to Amour, which tracks the evolution of the hopelessness on display here from the start. Yet rather than smothering the material in bad vibes, the filmmaker uses them to gradually reveal a fascinating world in which anger and resentment becomes the only weapon any of these people know how to wield.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“Often Haneke’s cinema is a cousin to conventional horror, conventional thrillers. Happy End is no exception. It is almost a genre movie. But the genre is that of Haneke’s own invention. It is unmistakably his work, presented with his usual masterly compositional flair, a mosaic of horror, filmed by cinematographer Christian Berger in crystal-clear light, often with icily detached long-shot camera positions. One character’s face is in fact never shown clearly at all – a diabolically apposite device. The narrative sometimes takes insidious little leaps forward, allowing us to register with a lurch the awful things that have been passed over.”
Peter Debruge (Variety)
“Audiences not already familiar with the demands of Haneke’s more misanthropic work could be put off, if not entirely confounded as the director returns to his austere conceptual roots, reuniting with DP Christian Berger — whose rigid formalism set the look of Caché (2005) and The White Ribbon (2009) — to catalog this new family’s dysfunction at a distance, all but announcing that their sins are those of Europe at large… ”
Tim Robey (The Telegraph)
“On the whole, though, Haneke’s style is less cumulative and more detached than ever. The film steadfastly refuses to coalesce, as thesis, thriller, winking satire on European wealth, despairing family soap opera, or any of the modes it suggests. And this is not to say he even wants it to. It flits from teasing sequence to sequence asking us to notice things: pregnant clues which make their individual contributions to meaning and sink in slowly.”
Lee Marshall (Screen Daily)
Austrian director Michael Haneke’s first film since his 2012 Palme d’Or and 2013 Oscar winner Amour, Happy End is a sombre, austere work whose formal rigour is, unusually for the director, not quite matched by its thematic resonance.
Ben Croll (The Wrap)
“Lacking the historical heft of The White Ribbon or the emotional through-line of Amour, Happy End is a more austere and enigmatic work about -among many other things — existential malaise among France’s top 1 percent. The compelling film is like the Austrian director’s answer to the age-old question ‘what do you get for the man who has everything?’ And though his answer is simple, one must put in the work to get there.”
Bradley Warren (The Playlist)
“Huppert is charming as the titular Claire, but takes a backseat to Kim Minhee who, after nuanced turns in Right Now, Wrong Then and On the Beach, cements her status as the finest performer to enter Hong’s stable of actors. If Hong is often a filmmaker who can be accused of making the same movie over and over again, this latent muse brings a veritable freshness to his output by offering an emotional gravity that hadn’t significantly figured into his creative sphere… Don’t be deceived by its modest 69-minute run time — Claire’s Camera is more than just a warm-up to the Competition-worthy The Day After. Wisely turning her lens towards Manhee, Isabelle Huppert’s Claire seeks to capture the arresting turmoil that actor Kim Minhee so subtly expresses and which contributes a compelling wrinkle to Hong’s familiar themes. Both a loving homage to the film festival that has built Hong Sang-soo’s reputation and an accomplished work on its own terms, Claire’s Camera proves that its director’s talent can’t be fenced in by national borders.”
Deborah Young (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Feeling more spontaneous and improvised than ever, this tale of chance encounters at a big film festival is easy on the eye and strewn with humorous gems, as it wryly reflects on the festival business and its denizens. It could be dismissed as a Rohmer-esque, just-for-fun amusement, which may be enough incentive for Huppert and Hong fans, were it not for a deeper reflection on the purpose of cinema running just below the surface… Lee Jinkeun’s simple but elegant cinematography gives the film a calm, off-season look. Only some rebellious zoom-ins in the middle of fixed camera long takes are aesthetic speed bumps. Everything is shot on location (no production designer is credited), giving Hong a chance to stop and comment on the strange scenery.”
Jason Bechervaise (Screen Daily)
“While Claire’s Camera, set during the 2016 Cannes festival itself, is charming in places, and bears the hallmarks of his idiosyncratic style, it ultimately feels dashed and somewhat shallow… Undoubtedly the film’s charm comes from the performances of Kim and Huppert, and scenes involving the pair and their tangible chemistry resonate the strongest.”
Pierce Conran (Screen Anarchy)
“In the midst of a strong run of films, Claire’s Camera feels like a perfunctory blip in Hong’s catalogue which brings together a formidable troupe of actors and tosses them onto the Croisette, hoping for something to stick, which never quite happens.”