The opening sequence of Happy End, the latest film from French director and provocateur Michael Haneke, is a funny–shocking series of domestic events captured via a livestreaming social media platform like Snapchat or Instagram. It shows the bedtime routine of a depressed, emotionally vacant woman. A pet hamster falls victim to an experiment with antidepressants. Then the woman too falls unconscious. A mordant textual commentary on the unfolding video turns out to have originated from the woman’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin), who has effectively broadcast her mother’s murder.
The sequence gestures back to many favourite Haneke themes: the corrosive effects of indifference, poisonous inter-generational relationships, the mundanity of depression, and the indignity of death. Later in the film Eve will drug herself, recalling another cheerful Haneke trope: shocking reprisal, the cyclical revisitation of violence. The livestream sequence is also a tapestry of Haneke’s formal strategies: laboratory-style shots that put the banal horror of everyday life under the microscope; diegetic sound only; elliptical storytelling; sinister vérité footage. The screen-within-a screen is a persistent Haneke motif. Against the soporific cinema that Haneke has made it his artistic mission to resist, here it forces spectators to foreground their involvement. What is it we are watching?