If you are even only a little familiar with the work of the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, it will come as no surprise that he does not regard instant messaging and smartphones as positive developments for humanity. His latest picture, “Happy End,” begins with the middle of its wide-screen frame taken up by the perfectly centered image of a phone, its camera eavesdropping on a middle-age woman whose bathroom door is open as she prepares for bed. The unseen voyeur texts snide commentary on the woman’s routine.
Mr. Haneke, whose technical mastery often makes his considered existential dyspepsia easier to swallow, doesn’t establish an obvious motivation for the spy — the 13-year-old Eve, the second-youngest member of the singularly unhappy Laurent family, whose story this movie tells. The Laurents, a most high-bourgeois clan, are besieged by trouble. Its patriarch, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), retains some mental sharpness in his 80s, but he’s losing his memory, and he’d like to get out — that is, die — while he still has some faculties left. His son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) has brought his daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) to stay with him and his new wife and baby after Eve’s mother attempted suicide. (Thomas also has a mistress, whom Eve learns about while cyber-eavesdropping on her father.) They are all living in the family’s Calais mansion with Eve’s aunt, Anne (Isabelle Huppert) — she’s the woman in Eve’s phone at the beginning — who is trying to keep the family construction business afloat, a task not helped much by her wayward son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), or a fatal accident at a building site.
“Happy End” has a linear structure, but Mr. Haneke presents his scenes with little or no connective tissue. Instead of conventional transitions, there are abrupt shifts that resemble clicking through channels on a television. A scene of domestic disorder will cut to a web video in which an adolescent boy giddily chronicles his hair and skateboarding styles from videos past, and the movie lets this clip roll on quite a while before showing us that it’s something Eve is watching on her computer. This strategy has a distancing effect, but also forces the viewer to stay on his or her toes.
It also constitutes a bit of misdirection, in that there is a bigger picture outside of this chronicle of self-absorption. The Laurents, as what some would call wealth creators, have, in Mr. Haneke’s view, some responsibility to and for a whole class of people who aren’t even abstractions to them. Aside from their servants, members of the working class — both the documented and undocumented — are not often seen in this movie, but the times they are made visible are significant. They appear at key points in the movie, as when Georges, in a wheelchair after his attempted suicide-by-car fails, rolls down a street, festooned with tacky little shops, and stops in front of a group of men, most likely African immigrants. We can’t hear what he’s asking of them, but we can guess. The character’s presumption is staggering on several levels.
Like many of Mr. Haneke’s films from the past two decades, “Happy End” is set in France and features a mostly French-speaking cast. It has an uncommonly strong ensemble cast (including Toby Jones, who plays Anne’s English lover and business ally), but the movie belongs to Mr. Trintignant. At the height of his career, his nuanced performing mode achieved an almost supernatural perfection, whether he was playing a romantically hapless intellectual (in “My Night at Maud’s,” released in the United States in 1970), a stoic racecar driver (in “A Man and a Woman,” 1966) or a fascist dupe (in “The Conformist,” 1970). Here, he is both steely and vulnerable in a role in which he has almost no physical movements to perform. In the movie’s central scene, a long conversation with the troubled Eve, he merely has to move his head forward, or crook a finger, to throw a world out of its orbit.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of an actress in the film. She is Fantine Harduin, not Hardun.