While hard at work writing her new novel Emmanuèle gets a phone call that no one wants to receive. She learns her 85-year-old father André has had a stroke and is being rushed to the hospital. This all too relatable moment sets the table for “Everything Went Fine”, the affecting and probing adult drama from renowned French filmmaker François Ozon.
“Everything Went Fine” is based on a memoir by the late Emmanuèle Bernheim that chronicled her own experience with her father’s death (Bernheim was the screenwriter for Ozon’s 2003 film “Swimming Pool” and his 2004 film “5×2”). Ozon sets aside his more provocative proclivities to give us an honest yet sensitive treatment of some weighty subject matter. The results are a richly human and unsentimental feature that sometimes operates like a procedural but one fueled by an unshakable warmth and empathy.
“Everything Went Fine” isn’t the first movie to tackle assisted suicide. But rather than taking on the ethics of the controversial practice, Ozon’s interests are far more pragmatic. He digs into the more personal and practical implications. His filmmaking and storytelling is intentionally low-key, but the gravity of these ideas and themes are never lost on us. And he even finds time for dabs of mordant humor often when you’re least expecting it.
The movie is driven by a gripping performance from Sophie Marceau who plays Emmanuèle. It’s beautifully modulated work that keeps so many of Emmanuèle’s feelings internalized. Yet her inner conflict is always evident to the audience and is conveyed with resonating emotional detail by Marceau. Also good is André Dussollier playing Emmanuèle’s father, André. He’s a terse and temperamental man who has fueled much of the long-standing tension in their family.
Most of the movie follows Emmanuèle and her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) as they pay visits to the hospital, get updates from their father’s doctors, and manage his affairs the best way they know how. But after André is moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation clinic (rather than home) he broadsides Emmanuèle with a shocking demand. He wants her to help him end his life. She’s understandably against it and is taken aback by him putting such a thing on her shoulders. It ends up peeling back another layer to their already complicated relationship.
One of the things I love most about “Everything Went Fine” is how delicately Ozon handles the family history. And rather than force-feeding us, Ozon lets us sort it out and fill in the blanks for ourselves. He gives us just enough detail to grasp the dynamics at work. Through his lens the Bernheims are revealed to be a bourgeois family of artists who have lived comfortably off their successes.
But they’re also a family marked by their own inner turbulence. For example while Pascale is really close with her sister, it’s clear Emmanuèle is her father’s favorite. Yet we get a couple of subtly revealing flashbacks to Emmanuèle’s childhood that tell a different story. Then there’s Claude (a subtly penetrating Charlotte Rampling), the girls’ mother and André’s former wife. She has Parkinson’s and severe depression and channels a clear resentment towards her ex-husband. All of it works to enhance the drama. Yet there are even more details that Ozon leaves for us to sort out on our own.
Over time we gain a good understanding of Emmanuèle’s emotional dilemma as she parses through a range of conflicting feelings. On the one hand there is the bitterness left from her painful childhood. On the other hand she feels obligated to be a good daughter. And then there’s the sheer weight of what he’s asking her to do. Ozon lets it all play out organically. And the patient rhythm of his storytelling combined with some top-to-bottom stellar performances lends the material just the kind of dramatic heft it needs.
I want to see this as I’m a fan of Ozon though I need to catch up on a lot of his recent films such as everything since The New Girlfriend with the exception of Summer of 85 which I liked a lot. Plus, I love a lot of those actors in the film as Ozon is just a great director with actors as I still feel he continuously gets overlooked here in the U.S.
If you like Ozon you’ll be like this one and also be surprised by it. I’m a really big fan of it.
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