Michael Haneke’s films have come up often in recent conversations with my students. I haven’t rewatched any of his since Amour, so it’s been over five years since I’ve seen one of his films. Somehow I remember him as having a much less mobile camera than the one in Happy End, where the camera moves a lot. Though it’s too simplistic, the camera in here does in some ways to move mostly in relation to Eve (Fantine Harduin, who is great in the film). There are plenty of exceptions to this, including a scene that I’ll look at below, but Eve does seem like the most mobile character in the film. She’s also the main character, so there’s that…
But Haneke’s frames still feel so precise. Even in a fairly simple setup when Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) has picked Eve up and is driving her home from school, the shot-reverse-shot in the car feels at once traditional (we cut to reaction shots) and very Haneke-like (no frills, long beats).
I don’t remember much hype surrounding Happy End, but I think it’s a really good film. The family relationships are complex and unfold gradually in a way that I think is rewarding. There’s ambiguity in the film, but I feel like there is less than in his other work. That’s neither here nor there for me – the film is dynamic and complex.
Here’s a look at one of my favorite scenes. Haneke stages expertly. I tend to like (at least to analyze) scenes that have “more” blocking than others. This one starts with a sort of vlog/mashup video on a computer, before we cut out and reveal that it’s Eve watching. She hears someone off-screen, so she stands and walks into the bedroom. Haneke’s camera tracks back with her:
There’s something about her decision to go that feels so appropriate for the film. Haneke’s characters so often do something when they feel like they’re hidden. That’s true in this instance as Eve has just heard Anaïs (Laura Verlinden) walk off.
This section of the scene takes place in the low-key bedroom. Eve holds Anaïs’ baby in a way that feels dangerous and loving. Anaïs’ reactions say as much (she protectively takes the child), as does the mise-en-scene.
When Thomas enters off-screen we pan and push back the way that Eve came, landing in this 3-shot:
The first cut in the scene comes next, to this wide, which then pulls back and pans left as Thomas enters the kitchen.
The last cut in the scene is back to Anaïs in the doorway. Thomas enters and Eve plays out between them and in the background. It’s nicely observant of her and the frame reflects that. She’s quite observant throughout the film. The over that this lands on feels so full of jealousy and longing (as does the end of the scene):
Two nicely timed exits leave Eve temporarily alone, before she and Anaïs are the only ones left. It’s well thought through, as their relationship is quiet and a bit tense (already established at the beginning of the scene). Haneke plays them as ships passing:
And we end the scene on Anaïs, appropriately quiet, and reflective:
It’s not only some of the character-related moments I’ve noted above, but also the efficiency of the coverage that still leads no beat unturned, that keeps certain reactions off-screen/out of focus, and that prioritizes Anaïs and Eve above Thomas, which helps later in the film when they have another conversation.
Here’s another scene I really liked. Pierre (Franz Rogowski, also excellent. Everyone’s excellent in this, and I haven’t even mentioned Isabelle Huppert or Jean-Louis Trintignant!) pulls up and approaches an apartment building:
We get the sense that we’re in a much less affluent neighborhood. That contrast is another Haneke trademark. As is the conversation that plays out in wide shot and with true sound perspective:
After a violent encounter Pierre walks back. This time Haneke doesn’t pan him out, but tracks slowly to him, landing in a tighter medium than his opening frame:
I quite like the wide that lingers for so long, without access to the dialogue, but also the track back instead of a pan back. It feels traditional to me: we get more drama in the tighter frame, which is narratively reflected (he’s now bleeding). But it’s also a good example of how a track with things moving in the foreground can really feel more urgent than the initial pan in.