Tired of Waiting for Hanake's Happy End

So, I got tired of waiting for Michael Hanake's latest film, Happy End, to get released in the US.  It had its festival run last year, gotten all its reviews, and then just kinda parked with no word of a home video release.  Eventually, this past March, it came out on blu-ray in other parts of the world: from Warner Bros in Germany and Artificial Eye in the UK.  But nothing was ever announced here and I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever see it, so I just imported.  I picked the British blu because it has more extras, plus the Amazon.de official review suggests that disc was DNR'd.  Google translate says: "Hairstyles are not differentiated. Instead, the hair becomes a pulpy mass. ...In addition, there is sometimes motion blur with slight jerking."  Yeah, that's enough for me to steer in another direction.  Anyway, since my UK copy arrived in the mail, Happy End finally has been announced, coming from Sony Pictures Classics on July 24.  Oh well, I've already got the AE disc now.  Too slow, Sony!
When I first heard about this movie, I remember people questioning whether this was some sort of sequel to Hanake's last film, Amour, since we're back in France with Isabella Huppert again playing Jean-Louis Trintignant's daughter.  But it's really like a crazy amalgamation of all of Hanake's films - going all the way back to early films like Benny's Video and The Seventh Continent, and yes, up to Amour, where... let's just say the circumstances of the Trintignant's wife are conspicuously identical.  It's as if all of his past movies were compressed into one, dysfunctional family.  And I don't just mean the characters, but everything from the stylistic flourishes to Haneke's ruminations on media and inventive concepts... two thirds of the way through this movie, I was just waiting for somebody to pick up a remote control and undo what we'd just scene, or for Huppert to stab herself in the shoulder.  It's like "The Monster Mash" of Haneke's body of work.
I don't necessarily think that's a criticism, but I see it has resulted in some less positive fan and critical reaction, largely because the film comes off as a bit unfocused.  Love or hate Funny Games, that movie's got one idea to explore, which it sinks its teeth into at the very start and never lets go of until the bitter end.  It's not as easy to zero in on precisely what this film's about; I see a lot of viewers online questioning what the "point" was.  There's an ensemble cast, and their issues and personal struggles never seem to quite dovetail into a singular, focused plot with a targeted resolution.  And I don't think it helps that there was some early press that this film was "about" the current European refugee crisis, when really, that's just a subtextual touchstone that occasionally rings out in the film.  But that said, I really don't think Happy End is nearly so convoluted or aimless as its harsher critics make it sound.
It's Haneke, so you should know going in that he's not going to hold your hand stressing out about whether anyone in the audience might ever get irritated.  But I really don't think there's an impenetrable barrier between audience and understanding being put up here.  It's all out in the open; this is Haneke's Happiness, with everybody struggling to reach and define their own happy endings in ways that really aren't terribly disconnected.  And I don't think anybody denies that it's an expertly photographed film with an unstoppable cast.  Also, if fans were worried Haneke has been softening up or losing his edge; this is a film that starts out with iphone footage of a woman being surreptitiously filmed in the bathroom, and the first lead character we're introduced to is a twelve year-old girl who poisons her mother with her own antidepressants.  And that little girl handily holds her own among all the great performances.  So if you're a fan of Haneke's other work, I really don't think there's any reason to be anxious about diving into this one.
2018 Artificial Eye UK blu-ray.
So, there's honestly less PQ to review in the case of a modern film, shot digitally, being released on disc.  There's no concern about what film elements were used, how closely they were scanned, how thoroughly grain was captured, etc.  The filmmakers create and release a final DCP and send that same file out to everyone.  Labels don't have to worry about restoring colors from prints that have gone vinegar etc; it's all digitally locked into place.  But here's the pertinent info: the film's presented slightly matted to 1.85:1, and compression seems perfectly fine.  It was shot and released in 4k, so I'm sure this film could benefit from a fancy 4k UHD blu, but we all know that's not happening anytime soon.  We're given the option of a 5.1 DTS-HD mix or a 2.0 LPCM, both lossless of course, and with English subtitles for the French dialogue (this film also includes some English dialogue, which is not available subtitled).  So there's really nothing that even could go wrong... right?
2018 Artificial Eye UK blu on top; experiment bottom (see below).
Well, I'm not so sure.  You'll notice, particularly in the shot above, but actually in all the screenshots and throughout the entire film, that the movie looks a little pale.  Sure, fine, stylistic choice.  Don't question Haneke.  Maybe it's even an intentional commentary on how these characters are living bourgeois lifestyles that fail to reach their full depths or something, right?  But notice that I left the matting edges along the top and bottom of the frame, too.  Those aren't true black either, which rings some alarms.  That makes me think AE just got the gamma levels wrong on the disc, because even if Haneke shot the film with lighter darks, or color corrected it that way in post on purpose, that shouldn't effect the area outside the film.  That seems like something AE might've done after the fact.  So, as you can see above, I made a quick experiment of what the film would look like with the blacks brought down to the actual black, and it looks a little better, right?

Now, please don't misunderstand.  I'm absolutely not claiming my "experiment" is an absolute properly contrasted/ corrected shot of how the film should definitively look by any means.  I spent about 30 seconds on that in photoshop just to quickly and roughly illustrate my point.  All I did was bring the blacks down to the point where the mattes were perfect black, so you can see how that affected the rest of the shot.  And I definitely, absolutely may well be barking up the wrong tree, and AE's levels could actually be 100% perfect.  But it certainly strikes me as suspicious, and I'll be very curious to see if Sony's upcoming blu winds up coming out the same way.
Let's move on to the extras.  Both the German and UK discs share one key feature: a 22-minute 'making of' featurette.  This is quite good, low on clips from the film and high on sit-down interviews with Haneke and his crew and behind-the-scenes looks at production and post-production.  And it has the usual on-set interview soundbites from the cast.  If you own a lot of Haneke discs, you know his own collaborators seem to produce many of his extras (this one was directed by his regular editor, Monika Willi), resulting in much higher quality stuff than your standard promotional featurette.  That's all the German disc has, but the UK disc also has a 97-minute "masterclass with Michael Haneke."  This is essentially a long talk between Haneke and a critic about his entire body of work, including a few clips from his films and an audience Q&A session at the end.  It's quite good - the critic really knows his stuff - though it should be pointed out that they specifically avoid talking about Happy End.  In fact, they tell the audience that they'll be back later for a Q&A about Happy End later that day... why the heck isn't that on here?  That's a strange and slightly infuriating choice; but putting that aside and just focusing on what we do get, I have to say the masterclass was very interesting the entire hour and a half and I'm glad to have gotten it.

Artificial Eye's release also includes the theatrical trailer and comes in a slipcover.
Okay, so should I have waited for the Sony disc?  Well, had it been announced back when I ordered this version, I probably would've waited to see how that one comes out.  But I'm not kicking myself.  It sounds like I dodged a bullet with that Warner Bros disc, and I'm guessing Sony won't have the masterclass or any special features besides that making of featurette and the trailer.  And the blacks?  Even assuming I'm onto something here, it's not that bad.  Nothing struck me as amiss when I first sat down and watched it on my 4k TV.  It was only when I was taking screenshots on my PC that I noticed mattes were light.  So A) again, it's possible the film's supposed to have that slightly paler look, and B) you can always tweak the contrast and brightness on your TV to get it where you prefer anyway.  So I'd say it's either nothing or a minor flaw.  Again, I'm definitely curious to see how the Sony disc handles it.  But either way, I'm not sure it's a big enough issue that it should put you off AE's disc.  I mean, come on, we could all be dead by July 24.

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