Amour, Michael Haneke’s acclaimed dementia drama, gets a poignant nod in his latest masterpiece in which Jean-Louis Trintignant, once again coming back from retirement for Haneke, recalls a time of immense decision for a loved one as the octogenarian patriarch of an upper-middle class family, Georges Laurent.
Although there is a straight reference to his work, Haneke’s latest recalls more of his earlier work for its formal structure — 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Time is a straight descendant in terms of its bleak outlook in contemporary life; Benny’s Video is also an apt comparison for its use of audio visual technology as instruments of human surrogacy to deal with everyday issues and with skeletons in the closet. There is a little bit of The White Ribbon in the doe-eyed 13-year-old Eve (played by Fantine Hardouin).
The Laurent family live in Calais in a creaky old mansion. Georges has given the reins to his successful construction business to his oldest child, Anne, played by the ever-magnificent Isabelle Huppert — sadly she doesn’t have too much to do here. Second-in-line Thomas (Eve’s father, played by Mathieu Kassovitz) is a surgeon, yet in another loveless marriage. Eve moves in with Thomas, his wife Anaïs (Laura Verlinden) and their infant son. There is also the incompetent Pierre, Anne’s troubled son (played with magnificent panache by Franz Rogowski)—at one point Anne refers to him as ‘Pierrot’, which made me think of Pierrot le Fou, in name only.
There isn’t much in the way of a plot here: there is a workplace accident in one of the construction sites that Laurent is maintaining; Eve’s mother tries to kill herself, which results in Eve’s change of abode; Thomas has an intimate and graphic affair with a musician, only glimpsed via emails and social media communications; and Georges tries to kill himself at any chance he gets, but his old age and the unwillingness of his voluntold accomplices fail him.
And then there is the real drama that’s happening, of which we only get small glimpses of — the migrant crisis at Calais. True to his minimalist and distanced style, Haneke doesn’t overplay that and shows enough to make sure it’s lurking somewhere in our psyche.
Perhaps it’s less accessible than Haneke’s more recent films, but it is no less thrilling. The scenes where Thomas comes face to face with his secret, unbeknownst to his family and when Pierre visits the home of worker who was hospitalised after the accident at the construction site are incredibly powerful.
Haneke rarely makes anything less than stellar. Though this lacks some punch, it is also perhaps one of his funniest films, in a perverse sort of way.