Tuesday, 10 October 2017

LFF 2017:
Happy End / Call Me By Your Name

Here's an LFF 2017 Euro-friendly special, featuring contributions from Austrian and Italian directors. Make the most of it because once we leave the EU, Michael Haneke films will be banned and we'll have to smuggle them in up our arseholes.

Happy End
dir. Michael Haneke, France / Austria / Germany, 2017
I don't know about you, but I like my Haneke to be like a trip to the dentist: uncomfortable to the point of torture, but ultimately good for you. The likes of Funny Games and Hidden throw bourgeois complacency into such sharp relief that Haneke's natural audience should feel like they're the ones being punished as much as their on-screen avatars are, and I find that delicious. Sadly, I left Happy End feeling disappointingly guilt-free and mentally unmolested, and that's no way to walk out of a Haneke.

Formally, this is - thankfully - the same old Michael Haneke: long, static shots that force you to examine every square inch of the frame; elliptical storytelling that wilfully skips over massive plot points and expects you to keep up; the total absence of a score; Isabelle Huppert. Even thematically, all the hits are present and correct - an innocent animal suffers an unpleasant fate, familial bonds are tested to breaking point and the whole affair is colder than an Austrian winter.

But there just isn't that much to chew on. The wealthy, intellectual family unit is in place, and its constituent parts are ripe for some kind of catastrophic, perception-altering event, but it never comes. Haneke's script makes gentle forays into notions of class inequality and racial tension, but he doesn't employ them with the surgical efficiency he has in the past. Maybe he's just chilling out; he's 75, after all, and may well be tired of being so mean to the middle classes. But in turning out such a lesser work, he's denied us the exquisite horror we've come to expect, and that might be the meanest trick of all.

Call Me By Your Name
dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy / France, 2017
I'll be honest, if Armie Hammer came round to my house for six weeks and spent most of that time lounging around in tiny shorts and dripping wet, I'd probably want to fuck him too. So identification with Call Me By Your Name's sexually uncertain 17-year-old protagonist Elio (Timothée Chalamet, the kid from Interstellar who grew up to be Casey Affleck) is easily achieved. And 132 minutes in Lombardy through Luca Guadagnino's lens is such a relaxing experience that you could easily save hundreds of pounds just watching this film instead of actually going on holiday to Italy.

Hammer and Chalamet perform a delightful verbal and physical dance around each other for much of the first act, while a hugely unsubtle, metaphorical apricot tree slowly ripens in the garden of Elio's family villa. Eventually an affair begins and, inevitably, ends, and it's tenderly portrayed by Guadagnino and his actors - not least the supporting cast, who circle the leads gently as if protecting and encouraging them from a distance.

Something about Call Me By Your Name doesn't quite click for me though: the relationship feels real enough - Guadagnino packs his film with detail, while Chalamet is effortlessly convincing - but the drama is small-scale, if such a thing can be said about a coming-of-age tale. Armie Hammer makes a man out of a boy, but he does it so delicately and incrementally that I found myself yearning for a little more turmoil. It's never dull, but given the comfortably-off intellectual but somewhat self-absorbed family at the story's centre, an appalling part of me did begin to wonder if Michael Haneke's Call Me By Your Name might have been a better movie.

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