“Everything Went Fine” is François Ozon’s latest drama to tackle a controversial social issue. Much like the director’s 2018 Catholic Church sex abuse film “By the Grace of God”, Ozon takes on a serious and divisive subject with honesty and class.
Taking on one’s right to die with dignity at the end of their life, Philippe Piazzo and director Ozon adapted the autobiographical novel by Emmanuèle Bernheim about the author’s own relationship with her elderly father.
The tremendously good Sophie Marceau stars as Emmanuèle. The film begins as she receives a phone call from her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas), where she learns her father, André (André Dussollier), has suffered a stroke.
Beginning “Everything Went Fine” with an instant crisis, Ozon throws the audience into the lives of Emmanuèle and Pascale. Eluding any unnecessary setup, the immediacy of the drama takes hold.
After spending weeks by her father’s side, André asks his daughter to help end his life.
In France (the characters live in Paris) assisted suicide is against the law. If his daughters were to grant his request, they could go to prison. André’s only chance to achieve his goal is to travel to Switzerland.
Emmanuèle and Pascale’s family is far from perfect. While the two sisters have carved out good lives (the former a successful novelist and Pascale a married mother of two), their childhood left lingering scars that affect their immediate reactions to their father’s dying wish.
André is a difficult man who (as flashbacks inform us) was cruel and selfish as a father and husband.
Charlotte Rampling plays their mother, Claude, who was once a sculptor, her career destroyed by Parkinson’s. The actress brings her skilled gravitas to the role of a woman balancing the emotions of a dying husband (with whom she had a volatile and toxic relationship) while battling depression.
The mother is a sad character who becomes an emotional intrusion for the sisters. It is heartbreaking to see the two women carry such a strong disinclination towards fully engaging with the woman who gave them life.
Ozon unfolds the film softly and without melodrama. The screenplay is smart in how the layers of André’s life are revealed.
We learn he had a lover, Gérard (Grégory Gadebois), a man who Emmanuèle and Pascale call “Shithead.” The film needed to deal more with Gérard and his place in the family’s turmoil. A large part of Claude’s depression is that she has lost her dignity (staying married to man everyone knows is gay) while André requests to die with his. The presence of Gérard could have been used to burrow deeper into the film’s psychological ironies.
At times, Ozon seems unsure (or perhaps reluctant) to explore the full dramatic possibilities, though it doesn’t hurt the piece.
The focus stays on Emmanuèle and André’s emotional journey. Marceau is terrific as she holds her emotions close but allows us to see through the facade of the “together woman”. None of this is easy for Emmanuèle, as agonized memories of her father disrupt how she sees him at the end of his life.
After refusing. she gives way and agrees to help André die, leading to the presence of a Swiss euthanasia advocate (marvelously played by Hanna Schygulla) who helps Emmanuèle and her father through their difficult and legally dangerous actions. The character is a warm presence for Emmanuèle and Schygulla works from her heart and wears her character’s kindness on her intoxicating smile.
Ozon’s work is not a message film. The director does not take a moral stance, nor does he pass judgement on his character’s decisions. With a patient camera (and a sometimes too tidy approach), the material is handled with a humanistic attitude.
The film honestly presents a dysfunctional family staring in the face of mortality. With the effects of late life encompassing her family, Emmanuèle takes stronger notice of her own aging; her mind attempting to work through that palpable fear.
At times, Ozon is too relaxed with the material, yet his methodology could be deceptively insouciant.
There are strong emotions flowing through “Everything Went Fine”. We feel them through sensory moments; a kiss from daughter to father, a grandson focusing on his grandfather’s hands, flashback memories of an uneasy youth, the way André looks at Emmanuèle and the way she accepts his gaze.
While not on the deep-rooted level of Ozon films such as “Under the Sand”, “Young & Beautiful”, and “Swimming Pool”, the director achieves a certain profundity that is ultimately quite moving.
Everything Went Fine
Written by Philippe Piazzo and François Ozon (adapted from the novel by Emmanuèle Bernheim)
Directed by François Ozon
Starring Sophie Marceau, Charolette Rampling, André Dussollier, Géraldine Pailhas
NR, 117 Minutes, France 2 Cinéma/Mandarin Films/Cohen Media Group