Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 1, 2017

On the Other Side of Hope; Happy End

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,immigration — louisproyect @ 2:51 pm



The films of Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki and Austria’s Michael Haneke have nothing in common stylistically but do share a loathing for European bourgeois society. Their latest films additionally share a concern about one particular aspect of that decaying world, namely the persecution of immigrants. Kauriskmaki’s “The Other Side of Hope” that opens today at the Film Forum in New York is about the struggle of a Syrian refugee from Aleppo to survive on the hostile streets of Helsinki. Haneke’s “Happy End” is mostly about a bourgeois household coming apart at the seams but the climax of the film includes African immigrants from the refugee camp near the Calais entrance to the Eurotunnel crashing a fancy banquet. The effect is the same that Buñuel sought in “Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”, an attack on the complacency and moral rot of the rich. “Happy End” opens on January 22nd at the Film Forum as well as the Lincoln Plaza in New York. Both films are artistic triumphs as well as devastating blows against a world that is rapidly going mad.

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  1. An Italian critic wondered why Michael Haneke was still hitting at the upper-middle-class. Luis Bunuel, he said, had done the job a half century ago. The critic missed the point of the disparate videos shown at the start of ‘Happy End’. They demonstrate that our world has made great strides in triviality, numbed values and inhumanity. In the same way the ultra-smooth damage control of the industrialist Madame Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) is much more efficient than that of Bunuel’s time.

    When he (or Pasolini or Visconti) threw a grenade into a bourgeois salon, it caused a stir. There was a reaction. Money power and control are now more confident. When the rebel son of the Laurent family brings a bevy of black refugees into the clan’s formal dinner at a luxury restaurant, the seated guests don’t miss a bite. The young man is led away defeated and his mother calls for a table for the intruders. In a Bunuel story they would have got thrown out or have taken over the place.

    Not that Madame Laurent will invite them back. She runs the firm and is busy with lawyers evading responsibility over the death of an employee in an worksite accident. Her response is just as smooth when her Moroccan servant’s daughter is bitten by a household dog. A box of chocolates, the bite declared a scratch, and business as usual.

    Grandfather Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) injects some humanity into the family circle. However, it could be mere senile aberration. After all isn’t he the source of the Laurent fortune? His disgust with his family may be just an old man’s bile. In any case his overriding wish is simply to die. Here he rejoins the character Trintignant played in Haneke’s masterpiece of 2012, ‘Amour’. There the middle-class was not under fire but merely furnished the film with a social setting. (For all his social criticism Haneke is an aesthete and delights in filming elite interiors.)

    ‘Amour’ is the story of a very old couple who live in an atmosphere of sober affection. The woman (the magnificent Emmanuelle Riva from the 1959 ‘Hiroshima mon amour’) has a debilitating stroke. Her husband (Trintignant) gives her very personal care, but she’s reduced to being a conscious vegetable. She wants to die, her husband wants her to live, but after soul-searching he smothers her with a pillow, as it were, with love. The film throws a sharp light on the controversy much discussed in Europe just now of assisted suicide.

    Grandfather Laurent in Haneke’s ‘Happy End’ has some fleeting moments of confidence with his thirteen-year-old granddaughter. The girl has been deeply upset by her father’s two marriages and by his latest affair whose physical side she found documented in detail on his computer. This drives her to attempt suicide. Haneke’s astuteness here is remarkable. The thirteen-year-old isn’t a neglected child. She wants nothing materially and her father is in fact concerned for her feelings. But he expresses his concern in the same way that Madame Laurent exercises damage control for the firm. Her Grandfather asks her in a casual tone about her attempt at suicide and tells her he’s planning to make his own a success. He also tells her that he smothered his stricken and suffering wife. (But he’s an old man other than the old man in ‘Amour’.)

    In a moment of domestic confusion, Granddad, confined to a wheelchair, asked his granddaughter to push him to the top of a slope by the sea. She steps back and he propels himself into the water. As he goes under the girl takes a photograph with her cellphone. She belongs to her times just like the videos at the film’s start.

    This isn’t a movie for the Christmas season. It’s too true for that.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — December 6, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

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