MA 15+, 113 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
It isn’t every day that the subject of a European film coincides neatly with events on the ground on our side of the world. This new French film based on a published memoir of the same name details how a family worked within the law to help their terminally ill father end his life.
Legislation allowing for voluntary assisted dying under strict conditions has just passed in the NSW parliament. It’s a coincidence that a low-key family drama about this topic has released in cinemas today. It won’t, of course, be a film for everyone.
The writer-director of Everything Went Fine, Francois Ozon, has often had a happy knack for getting to the heart of the matter with his deceptively simple intimate dramas. As he delves into the complexities of our relationships with each other and with ourselves, it is his style to be challenging. To name a few, In the House with a precocious, transgressive teenage manipulator, Swimming Pool with an aging novelist contemplating her life in an isolated retreat, and Frantz with forbidden relationships across enemy lines, are discomforting and by turns intriguing. Ozon did lighten up a great deal for Potiche.
The author of the book, Tout S’Est Bien Passe, on which Ozon’s latest film is based, the author and screenwriter, the late Emmanuele Bernheim, collaborated with Ozon on Under the Sand, Swimming Pool and 5X2, was once a close former colleague. The saga of her father’s death is the subject of Ozon’s film and he has kept the name of his close friend as that of the film’s principal character and cast Sophie Marceau in the role.
Director Francois Ozon has a knack for getting to the heart of the matter in his deceptively simple intimate dramas
We are beginning to see more of Marceau since the height of her popularity in the 1980s-90s, in sultry and glamorous roles like d’Artagnan’s daughter, the French princess in Braveheart and the lead in Anna Karenina. No doubt, the gay French filmmaker is now adding her to his pantheon of charismatic older female actors, such as Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Seigneur, Charlotte Rampling and Hanna Schygulla who appear here, and giving them a new lease of screen life.
In the role as daughter on whom most of the weight falls when a father of two has a stroke, Marceau’s character is a lot less glamourous, but she strikes the right note as a novelist in her fifties with a film buff boyfriend, Serge (Eric Caravaca). She and her sister with kids, Pascale (Geraldine Pailhas) are close but they have little to do with their father’s former lover, Gerard (Gregory Gadebois). Or, for that matter, with their aloof mother, Claude (Rampling), a sculptor, who has sublimated her life and feelings in her art while Andre (Andre Dussollier), a wealthy former industrialist, ran the family.
When 85-year-old Andre has a stroke and is bedridden and severely disabled, Emmanuele cannot imagine he will not eventually recover. Another patient in the next bed, also a victim of stroke, eventually does recover, underlining the point that a full recovery after stroke is possible, and Emmanuele believes her father, once so handsome, imperious and strong, will eventually recover too.
A new lease of big screen life for Sophie Marceau, who strikes the right note here
However, Andre makes only modest gains, while coming to realise that he wishes to end his life. This is totally against the wishes of his family, except for Claude, who doesn’t seem to have a view. His daughters are devastated and at first unwilling to assist, even as some unpleasant childhood memories intrude to remind them of how they felt about their dad at times. Even towards the end, they are reminded of how he can still antagonise them.
The classic phrase ‘tout s’est bien passe’ is spoken by Hanna Schygulla in her role as liaison between the Swiss clinic that performs euthanasia and the family of the client. Schygulla, a veteran of the screen, plays the part as ‘the Swiss woman’ with a flat reserve that is on the creepy side. I wonder if that was intended.
Although it is a phrase into which you can read as little or as much as you like, the expression Tout S’est Bien Passe has of course a particular meaning in this film. At the same time, whether Andre’s trip to Switzerland has gone well or not gone well, is based entirely on your particular point of view.