How funny is a dead hamster? (Okay technically it's drugged, not dead, but the effect's the same.) The hamster comes in the first five minutes and you'll know by then. Where you land on that question might just tell you how you'll fall on Michael Haneke's Happy End, the terrifying Austrian auteur's new wacky LOL-laced comedy of upper-crusted-over ill manners.
Is anybody else calling it that? A comedy, I mean? I watched Happy End in a room full of critics and nobody around me laughed -- meantime I was dying inside. "Inside" being the choice term - I held my laughs in, lest I be judged terribly. It was, after all, a dead hamster I was laughing at. Not to mention a suicidal old man. And it's all played... well even calling it "straight-faced" does a disservice to "straight" - if you zoom in on a straight line, magnify it to oblivion, it ceases being a line and it starts being a series of dots, dots within dots. Infinitesimal. This is like that, for comedy.
To call this the Comedy Mask Cousin to Haneke's former film Amour, all tragedy, an unbroken close-up of a rigid death mask, seems right to me. Feels to me like the director of our sternest cinematic lectures is letting off some steam. It would be wading into spoilers probably to get into how explicitly Haneke ties this movie to the former, but I consider them siblings. One's the refined lady of the house, and one's the embarrassing black sheep, honking noses and getting blasted at the funeral.
Even the title is a funny game of its own - you approach a Michael Haneke Movie called Happy End with a hefty dose of side-eye, expecting him to be more miserable than ever. And then he wheels the expected misery out in front of you, only to then goose it like a deranged pervert. He hasn't done anything this funny since the dead dog fell out of the trunk in Funny Games.
On its own Happy End might probably be Minor Haneke - I get the complaint that it reads like a Greatest Hits Compilation of themes that he's wrung through many times before. It feels somewhat incomplete on its own. But as a Squirt Down The Pants of his own self-seriousness, as a comic parasite attached to the backs of those earlier movies, Happy End is essential viewing. But will anybody else be laughing? I guess it depends on that dead hamster, ha ha.
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