‘Everything Will Be OK’: Film Review | Berlin 2022

Cambodian auteur Rithy Panh imagines an Orwellian world where animals have subjugated humans.

Auteur writer-director Rithy Panh, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia that wiped out his family, makes films like nobody else. They are mostly ferociously intellectual, experimental and rigorous, but not easy to watch. That’s only partly because they so often explore grim subjects such as genocide, the rise of repressive political regimes, and how such states destroy memories and history through the various instruments of social control. His essayistic, meditative works, like his latest, Everything Will Be OK — which, like his previous The Missing Picture (2013), uses static clay figures and scaled-down diorama sets to explore his concerns (he has so little interest in narrative, the words “story” and “plot” mean nothing here) — impress with the heft of high moral seriousness.

But sheesh, watching them can feel like punishment. In the context of a film festival — Everything played in competition in Berlin this year, where it won a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution — sitting through one of his films sometimes feels like an atonement the viewer must make for the privilege of being at the festival at all.

Everything Will Be OK

The Bottom Line

Profound or pretentious?

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Rebecca Marder
Director: Rithy Panh
Screenwriters: Rithy Panh, Christophe Bataille, Agnes Senemaud


1 hour 38 minutes

While watching this, I took to writing down the subtitles’ English translations of the voiceover narration, spoken in dry French by Rebecca Marder and written by Panh and his frequent screenwriting collaborator Christophe Bataille. At first, I hoped quoting some of the lines for this review would help myself and readers understand the film. But after a while, I found myself scribbling down the most gnomic-sounding utterances out of a kind of subversive, critical spite. Because what else can you do with pronouncements like, “History comes with neither grammar nor lesson”? Or, later on: “The revolution is a tragedy of pessimism.” Or, my favorite: “What is art? It is [indecipherable scribble] and screaming.” The screaming part was very relatable.

Unlike The Missing Picture, widely considered one of Panh’s best films, Everything does not deploy the clay-figures-diorama-voiceover technique to explore Cambodian history so much as to evoke a dystopian world where animals have become humans’ overlords. As with George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the pigs, with their clever brains and low hygiene standards, are imagined as the chief baddies and avatars of corrupt human behavior, lording it over the menagerie of other creatures seen (sheep, apes, monkeys, dogs, what have you). Incidentally, both texts are a bit unfair to pigs, who are mostly rather sweet animals.

There is also a mini Statue of Liberty that looms over the arrangements sometimes, perhaps as a nod to Planet of the Apes, and a black monolith in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interspersed with the clay-creature tableaux are interludes like the ones Panh deployed in his 2020 doc Irradiated where archive footage is shown of Hitler shouting or of animals being slaughtered and the like, but triplicated and arranged in a patchwork formation with another triplicated clip of archive footage.

Wiser, smarter viewers might see in this film great profundities and acute insights, and clearly something about it spoke to the main competition jury of the 72nd Berlinale, but it’s hard to imagine regular viewers will have any chance to judge for themselves outside of very specialist platforms. Perhaps a revenue stream could be generated from replicas of the little clay figurines, affording people a chance to remake their own versions of Everything Will Be OK.

Full credits

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Rebecca Marder
Production companies: Anupheap Production, ARTE France, Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, Centre National du Cinema et de l’Image Animée, PROCIREP & Societe des Producteurs de l’ANGOA
Director: Rithy Panh
Screenwriters: Rithy Panh, Christophe Bataille, Agnes Senemaud
Producer: Catherine Dussart
Director of photography: Rithy Panh, Prum Mesarh
Production designer: Sarith Mang
Editor: Rithy Panh
Sound designer: Eric Tisserand
Music: Marc Marder
Sales: Playtime

1 hour 38 minutes

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