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Michael Haneke • Director

"The subject matter is the way we live, the autism that afflicts us"


- CANNES 2017: Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke gives us some clarifications as to Happy End, being shown in competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival

Michael Haneke • Director
(© M. Petit / Festival de Cannes)

Surrounded by his entire cast of actors including Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and with his usual reluctance to give explanations on the meaning of his films, Michael Haneke gave us some keys to deciphering his latest opus, Happy End [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Michael Haneke
film profile
, which was unveiled in competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

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Why did you centre your film about this strange middle-class family from Calais?
Michael Haneke: As a writer, you’re always searching for new subject matter. You could say you’re oblivious to life. But I never look for specific themes, I find it boring and that’s how you end up with clichés. I have to be moved by something for the rest to follow. This film was born out of a certain bitterness on our way of living, this way we have of not looking beyond the end of our noses in this world around us. And it’s not a French problem, I could have made the same film in Germany, Austria or elsewhere. The subject matter is the way we live, the autism that afflicts us.

How did you work on the writing for the screenplay?
After Amour [+see also:
film review
interview: Michael Haneke
film profile
, I wrote another film which ended up not being made. So I had to go back to reflecting and writing quite quickly as I’d already lost two years by that point. The writing is a mix of things. You start developing the characters and at the same time the plot starts to come together. That said, in Happy End there’s no real plot, no more so than a big surprise that stirs up tension. My method is to recount as little as possible to get as many reactions as possible out of the viewer.

Happy End touches on social networks and new technologies in communication.
It’s something that concerns me. We’re bombarded with information and operate under the illusion that we’re being kept informed. But the truth is we don’t know anything. Once upon a time, a farmer knew his village, that was enough for him and he was happy. Today, the same farmer has access to television and the Internet and is super informed, but actually knows nothing. The only thing we really know is what we’ve experienced. All this information is just the tip of the iceberg. In 20 years, the world has changed like never before in the history of humanity with the evolution of means of communication. I’ve been interested in this right from my first films, as you can’t understand the evolution of society without broaching the evolution of its means of communication.

The film is peppered with references to your other films, in particular Amour. Why? For fun?
No. For the scene you’re thinking of, in which the character played by Jean-Louis Trintignant talks about the death of his wife, it’s because Amour was triggered by an event in my personal life that really left its mark on me. I wanted to reference it once again in Happy End for the same reasons. As the film’s humour is somewhat twisted, I had to go about it differently, but that wasn’t my intention.

What did you want to convey as a message on the issue of migrants?
I won’t answer that question. I give you snippets and it’s up to you to come up with your own interpretation. I leave clues, but it’s up to the viewers to do the work.

(Translated from French)

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