Michael Haneke’s Happy End has finally made it to the U.S. Various independent theaters across the country will be screening the film between now and February. Happy End was originally released, sans English subtitles, in May of 2017 at the Cannes Film Festival. Critics described the film as “bleak” and “disquieting.” One reviewer praised it as a “black comedy of pure sociopathy,” which seems weird because I’ve never found anything remotely funny about Haneke’s films (especially not Funny Games).
Happy End revolves around a wealthy family in Calais, France, and the drama that stems from their close proximity to the city’s notoriously inhospitable refugee camp. That said, I still haven’t seen the movie.
While waiting for a screening in my part of the country, I’ve been revisiting Michael Haneke’s works in no particular order. His brand of storytelling is unparalleled. Spare on dialogue and visually stark, Haneke’s films often feel more like lived experience than cinema. They’re composed of sights and sounds that are tragically familiar to most of us: abrasive city ambience, muted miscommunications with strangers, and people quietly languishing in dimly-lit rooms. Haneke was always the master of the subdued “long take” scene and the 1990s drear aesthetic. His boldly depressive style seems more groundbreaking and relevant than ever. Most of Haneke’s films feature like one moment of extreme violence, which is always a nerve-shredding experience.
If you’re new to Haneke’s work or, like me, killing time before Happy End hits your town, check out these five films. Succumb to the despair or maybe even destroy what destroys you.
Michael Haneke’s first full-length film and part one of his “glaciation trilogy,” The Seventh Continent is an indictment of the settled life and all the crushing mediocrity that comes with it. To Haneke, status-quo ideology is a cancer. The director tears into middle-class living, the nuclear family, careerism, consumerism, and daily routine. He shows viewers that, contrary to popular wisdom, these things do not fill one with happiness and purpose. Rather, they are the grinding antitheses all that makes us human. (I know, it probably seems obvious in today’s world, but remember: Seventh Continent was made in 1989). The film’s characters, an Austrian family of three—a mother, father, and a daughter—plan to flee “the good life” by uprooting themselves and moving to Australia. Things don’t go as planned. While the film’s narrative and style only hint at things to come from Haneke, it remains a compelling work with plenty of unnerving shock and awe, slow-burning as it all may be. Essential viewing for sure.
Benny’s Video is the follow-up to Seventh Continent in the director’s “glaciation trilogy,” but be warned: the trilogy films are bound only by big-picture themes and topics. Benny’s Video marks a transition into seedier aesthetic terrain for Haneke. The film opens with grainy home-video footage of a pig being slaughtered via captive bolt pistol to the head (like the one Anton Chigurh uses in No Country for Old Men). Later, that same bolt pistol is used in a murder committed by the protagonist Benny, a teenager fascinated by death and amateur movie-making in equal measure. His parents ultimately decide to help cover up the crime to protect their son. The film features grimy visuals and a pyramid scheme. Think mondo films and neo-noir. The whole thing feels like a high-minded cesspit—and I mean that in the best possible way.
Haneke does romance—sort of—in this adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s masterpiece novel of the same name. The eponymous piano teacher, Erika Kohut (played by Haneke’s muse, Isabelle Huppert), is a middle-aged instructor at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory. She lives with her alcoholic mother and struggles to connect with people despite her immense musical talents. She’s uptight and fearful of developing a mental illness like her father. She fantasizes about violent and degrading sex acts. In one scene, she watches a porno movie in an arcade and scrounges cum tissues from a wastebin to sniff them. Her life changes when a charming young pianist named Walter realizes that he’s in love with her. Reluctantly, Erika begins to open up to Walter, who displays affections previously absent from her life. The two struggle to relate to each other, culminating in some sickening consequences. Haneke reminds us that humans are all damaged shitbags and that love may be impossible on this rotating hell-orb we call Earth. Huge content warning for various forms of sexual violence.
Haneke does dystopian—sort of—in this post-apocalyptic slog that makes The Road look like an adventure romp by comparison. Ever wonder what it would really be like to navigate a water-scarce hellscape with your family while trying to avoid the frantic violence that accompanies the decline of a civilization? Well, Time of the Wolf is obviously the movie for you.
A mass-shooting at a bank. A refugee boy fleeing the misery of his homeland. An urban landscape of technology-induced social alienation. An assaultive news-media blitz detailing a world brimming with warfare and human suffering. Sounds familiar, right? 71 Fragments feels completely prophetic in 2018. While the intersecting narratives all take place in Vienna, the film is especially relevant to contemporary life in the U.S. On top of all that, 71 Fragments unfolds in short, disjointed vignettes (hence the title), which makes it a kind of dismal existential puzzle. You’ll probably regret seeing this one, but you should regret not seeing it even more.
Andrew Novak is a journalist and news editor in Washington, DC. He likes to read. He likes to write. He likes to take pictures with his camera. His fiction has appeared in Fluland, Shotgun Honey, Dark Moon Digest, Out of the Gutter Online, and Bizarro Central.