François Ozon follows his darkly sensual melodrama about queer first love, Summer of 85, with a pivot back to sober dramatic territory in Everything Went Fine, which doubles as a gesture of gratitude toward the late novelist Emmanuèle Bernheim, his script collaborator on Under the Sand, Swimming Pool and 5×2. Taking a refreshingly frank, uncomplicated attitude to its fraught issues, the film stars Sophie Marceau in a compellingly grounded performance as Bernheim, asked to take on a role of tremendous moral and emotional weight by a man with whom she has always had a somewhat thorny relationship and yet finds impossible to deny.
The other actor who elevates the intimate drama is veteran André Dussollier as Emmanuèle’s father André Bernheim, a cultured art collector whose vitality continues to peek through his distress even after the stroke that leaves him semi-paralyzed. He makes the unbending decision to end his life rather than go on in a severely diminished condition. Having unapologetically entered into the bourgeois conventions of marriage and family while continuing to live openly as a gay man, André is a curious character, selfish in many ways but also uncompromising. Dussollier plays that double edge with a mischievous glint in his eye that erases sentimentality.
Everything Went Fine
Smart, straightforward and absorbing.
Ozon can be an invigoratingly playful filmmaker but the virtue perhaps less appreciated about the prolific director’s work is its efficiency. His adaptation of Bernheim’s book is notable for the laser focus of its short, pared-down scenes, making this a social issues film more interested in subtly observed personal responses and family dynamics than the bigger ethical questions raised. Considering the subject matter, Everything Went Fine is not the most affecting drama, but its honesty and intelligence keep you glued.
Emmanuèle gets a call that her 84-year-old father has been taken ill and rushes to the hospital, meeting her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) there just as André is being given an MRI to assess brain damage. The invasive noise of the machine seems a challenge to the sisters’ attempt to remain calm. When they finally get to see him, their father is feeble, teary and struggling to speak. But Emmanuèle insists that she’s not concerned: “He always recovers.”
The sisters return next visit with their mother Claude (Charlotte Rampling, who did some of her best work of recent decades in Under the Sand and Swimming Pool). She suffers from chronic depression and Parkinson’s disease, though her absence of warmth for her husband would appear to be rooted elsewhere. “Your father doesn’t look so bad,” she tells Emmanuèle and Pascale, more dismissively than reassuringly, before instructing her nurse to get her out of there. Claude is a sculptress of some renown, who worked in concrete. Later in the film, when André is asked if he should consult her on his decision, he sniffs: “With her heart of cement, your mother’s already dead.”
André is in and out of intensive care in the days that follow, but despite some signs of improvement, he tells Emmanuèle, “I want you to help me end it.” The doctor assures her that a death wish is common in such cases, and that the patients almost always choose life, but surrendering the will to live will hasten his decline. Flashbacks to childhood show André to have been an ambivalent parent to Emmanuèle, and Pascale suggests that since she often wished him dead, maybe their father has given her a gift. Just the fact that he chose one sister over the other to make such a demand seems indicative of a history of pitting them against one another.
Added strain on the family relationships comes from the unwelcome appearance of a man named Gerard (Grégory Gadebois), or “shithead,” as he’s referred to by the sisters. Ozon teases out his connection to André, which is revealed without judgment, though it provides further evidence that he has looked after his own needs over those of his wife and daughters.
While Emmanuèle keeps hoping that progress in her father’s recovery will lead him to change his mind, he’s a stubborn man and any reprieve is short-lived. She contacts a Swiss organization called The Right to Die with Dignity, and discussion of their fees yields an amusing class comment. “How do poor people do it?” asks André. “They wait to die,” responds Emmanuèle. Her contact is a soft-spoken German woman (the great Hanna Schygulla) who explains the procedure with tenderness and humanity.
Complications surface when André reveals his intentions to his cousin Simone (Judith Magre) and she flies in from New York to remind him that he owes it to their relatives killed in the Holocaust to continue living. Also, a tip-off to the police that the family are preparing to act in violation of French law brings hitches, potential criminal charges and last-minute changes to the plan. But Ozon keeps this swerve into mild suspense consistent with the measured tone of the film throughout.
There are gentle moments of happiness once André’s arrangements have been finalized — attending his grandson’s music recital, or dining at a favorite restaurant one last time with Emmanuèle and her husband Serge (Éric Caravaca), being fussed over by his regular waiter. (The writer’s partner until her death in 2017 was French film critic and former Cahiers du Cinéma editor Serge Toubiana.)
The crisply shot film is characterized by its elegant simplicity, by the way it lays out something still widely perceived as a radical course of action while refusing to engage in hand-wringing. Instead, it quietly makes the case that everyone should have the right to end a life that has become unendurable. Dussollier deserves credit for declining to soften André’s abrasive edges, but the center of the drama is Marceau’s welcome return after a few years of relative quiet. She gives Emmanuèle a tough pragmatism that makes her moments of visible pain quite moving. This is not a major film for Ozon, but it’s a loving statement of compassion and solidarity for the fortitude of a departed friend.