As Tolstoy observed, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That variety has offered quite a career to Michael Haneke, the Oscar-winning Austrian-German filmmaker whose moody, mannered films paint bleak households like an undisputed master.
His latest group portrait studies the wealthy Laurent clan, whose construction company has just lost a worker in a fatal accident partly caused by the negligence of Pierre (Franz Rogowski), a chip off the old Laurent block. His faults trace to neglect from his business-fixated mother Anne (Isabelle Huppert), whose domineering, declining father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has a family skeleton in his own closet. Those corrupt family traits cover several generations of Laurents to the point of suffocation as they suffer through formal dinners in their mansion.
Haneke designs what evolves into a murder-melodrama as an austere detective story for the viewers. While the family goes about the affairs of daily life, the camera remains set in place, giving the characters the kind of unblinking gaze a cobra holds before it strikes.
Long, ominous cuts allow us to overhear conversations that are generally much less innocent than they sound. We see voyeuristic smartphone videos being recorded and poetically obscene text messages being written, dread building by the heartbeat as we try to determine who is at the controls.
With icy precision, the Laurents talk about everything except the sinister issues that are really guiding their decisions. The payoffs concern philosophy as much as drama.
Haneke’s work here, as always, is unfailingly morose, haunting and impossible to resist.
★★★★ out of 4 stars
Rating: R for some sexual material and language. In English and subtitled French.