Franz Rogowski

Happy End

30/12/17

It has long been a tradition in our household that I choose to visit the cinema on my birthday – but since that birthday falls at an awkward time of year, it isn’t always easy to find something decent to watch. I was therefore delighted to note that the Cameo Cinema was offering a screening of Michael Haneke’s Happy End. While it can hardly be regarded as cheery birthday fare, Haneke’s films are always challenging to say the very least.

The film centres around the upper-bourgeois Laurent family who own a construction company based in Calais, against the troubling background of the migrant crisis.  The widowed patriarch of the family, George (Jean Louis Trintignant), is rapidly succumbing to dementia and spends much of his time actively trying to end it all. Meanwhile, his daughter, Anne (Isabelle Huppert), runs the business in her own no-nonsense manner, whilst vainly trying to interest her hapless son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), in the idea of taking over from her – but it’s clear that he’s not really cut out for this kind of life. When an industrial accident results in the death of an employee, matters come to a head – and, at the same time, George’s son, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a well-to-do doctor, has to unexpectedly offer a home to his estranged teenage daughter, Anais (a remarkable performance from Laura Verlinden), whose mother has recently died from poisoning. Thomas is now remarried and has an infant son. It’s quite clear that he isn’t really sure how to interact with Anais – and there are still disturbing questions to be asked about what happened to her mother…

This is typical Haneke territory – the story is never clear cut, but gradually unfolds in a series of incredibly realistic vignettes. There are long takes, often shot from a distance, where the viewer is made to feel like a voyeur spying on the proceedings, an effect heightened by the way Anais records much of the action on her mobile phone – and at several points we are presented with revelations that make us reconsider many of the conclusions we have already drawn.

Haneke isn’t to everyone’s taste. His is an uncompromising world-view that takes no prisoners, but he is a unique talent that deserves to be celebrated and, to my mind at least, this is an excellent way to conclude the year’s viewing.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Victoria

MV5BMTc5NzQzNjk2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODU0MjI5NjE@._V1_UY268_CR0,0,182,268_AL_201505757_6

13/04/16

Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young Spanish woman, living and working in Berlin. We first encounter her dancing by herself at a nightclub and it’s there that she first meets Sonne (Frederick Lau) and falls for his boisterous chat-up lines. She’s supposed to go and open up the cafe where she works, but instead falls in with Sonne and his friends, Boxer, (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burat Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) and agrees to go with them to visit a favourite hangout of theirs. As the night progresses, it’s clear that Victoria and Sonne are falling for each other – but when Boxer enlists Victoria’s help to drive a car for him, so he can do a friend ‘a favour’, the mood quickly switches into thriller mode and it becomes apparent that this is not going to end well for anyone involved…

As you may have heard, the ‘gimmick’ with writer/director Sebastian Schipper’s film is that it’s shot in one continuous take, which is of course, a monumental undertaking in itself. (Innarutu’s recent hit Birdman gave the impression of being shot in this way, but he managed to sneak in a few clever edits. This, however, is the real McCoy.) Schipper and his cast and crew manage to achieve their goal with such verve and brilliance, that you feel like applauding their ingenuity. (Apparently they could only afford three attempts to get everything right and the third take is the one they used).

But don’t go thinking that a gimmick is all that this film has to offer. There’s more. Much more. As the story progresses and Victoria and her new-found pals fall deeper and deeper into the brown stuff, Schipper expertly racks up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. This is gripping, nerve-shredding stuff that will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the brilliant conclusion.

An unqualified triumph. Don’t miss it.

5 stars

Philip Caveney