Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
France/Austria/Germany, 2017. Les Films du Losange, X-Filme Creative Pool, Wega Film, Arte France Cinema, France 3 Cinema, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE G.E.I.E, Arte France, France Televisions, Canal+, Cine+, ORF Film/Fernseh-Abkommen, Centre National De La Cinematographie, Pictanovo Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Région Hauts-de-France, Filmforderungsanstalt, CNC/FFA Mini-Traite, Österreichisches Filminstitut, Filmfonds Wien, Eurimages. Cinematography by Christian Berger. Produced by Margaret Menegoz. Production Design by Anthony Neale. Costume Design by Delphine Capossela, Coralie Sanvoisin. Film Editing by Monika Willi. Cannes Film Festival 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
The weak centre of a seemingly impermeable bourgeois family in gorgeous Calais is examined in this unremarkable effort from master filmmaker Michael Haneke. Isabelle Huppert is trying to keep the family’s construction business afloat despite a major accident occurring under her son’s watch, which brings strife from the workers as well as imposing on her own relationship with him. Her brother (Mathieu Kassovitz) has taken in his pre-teen daughter (Fantine Harduin, the film’s best performance) after her mother has been hospitalized for what appears to be a suicide attempt, and he bristles at the perspective that the young woman has of his new marriage and baby. The family’s patriarch (Jean-Louis Trintignant), aging and slowly going senile, uses his few clear moments to try and end his own life with a little dignity before he goes the way of Emmanuelle Riva in Haneke’s last movie about the sad realities of being classy in a European city (the family in this movie have the same names as characters in Amour, and you can make of that whatever you like). The symbolism is not exactly subtle, the film is set in a part of France that is now defined by its migrant crisis, the issue of which pops into frame from time to time only to be shooed away with cool discomfort by one of the film’s fancily dressed characters; this is a very simple critique of xenophobia without nearly the same searing rage bubbling beneath a deceptively calm surface that Haneke did with such controlled brilliance in Cache. The various strands of the plot, which also include Toby Jones in an inconsequential role, never really connect and the silences do not resonate; Haneke, the great stoic who loves to challenge our emotional reflexes by filming atrocities from long distances, actually surprises with the occasional touch of manipulation, like a zoom-in shot at the end that is reminiscent of a less magnificent crowd-pleaser. That he has followed three masterpieces and an effective remake with something that leaves you numb from disinterest is no great crime, Haneke a genius and is permitted to phone one in if he really needs to, but it’s a great surprise to not be treated to the usual assault on your expectations that his films usually provide.