EVERYTHING WENT FINE (Tout S’est Bien Passé)

Producers: Éric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer   Director: François Ozon   Screenplay: François Ozon  Cast: Sophie Marceau, André Dussollier, Géraldine Pailhas, Charlotte Rampling, Éric Caravaca, Hanna Schygulla, Grégory Gadebois, Jacques Nolot, Judith Magre, Daniel Mesguich, Annie Mercier, François Perache, Quentin Redt-Zimmer and Nathalie Richard   Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Grade: B+

In his most recent work, writer-director François Ozon has shown himself once more not just a prolific filmmaker, but one capable of handling remarkably diverse material with enormous skill.  In 2019 he made “By the Grace of God,” a powerful, sober fact-based study of a pedophilia scandal in the French church.  Two years later he offered “Summer of 85,” a gay coming-of-age tale that audaciously mingled tragedy and farce, reminiscent of his more extravagant earlier work.  He returns now with a film in the style of “Grace,” a subtle, nuanced, utterly non-exploitative drama about the right to die, based on the 2014 memoir by novelist Emmanuèle Bernheim, who collaborated with him on the screenplays for two of his best films, “Under the Sand” (2000) and “Swimming Pool” (2003).

The film begins with novelist Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) receiving a call from her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas), a musician, informing her that their eighty-four year old father André (André Dussollier) is in the hospital, having suffered a severe stroke.  She rushes to his bedside, finding him partially paralyzed but still as strong-willed and irritable as ever, contemptuously dismissing Robert (Jacques Nolot), a roommate recovering from a stroke himself, who attempts to offer words of comfort.

André slowly begins to recover, but he asks Emmanuèle, the child whom, as flashbacks indicate, he favored but treated so badly she wished for his death, to help him “end it.”  While a doctor blithely remarks that such a request usually is forgotten as a patient improves, Emmanuèle and Pascale know better, and eventually, since euthanasia is illegal in France, Emmanuèle contacts a Swiss organization that assists in what amounts to assisted suicide and confers with its representative (Hanna Schygulla) to make the necessary arrangements.  She will also talk with the family attorney (Daniel Mesguich) to ensure that all state requirements are observed to prevent any future legal problems.  Her husband Serge (Éric Caravaca), a film scholar, can’t entirely comprehend his wife’s deference to her father’s wishes—she merely observes to her doctor that they can deny André nothing—but is quietly, if nervously, supportive. 

Ozon and his crew—production designer Emmanuelle Duplay, costumer Ursula Paredes, cinematographer Hichame Alaouie and editor Laure Gardette—lay all this out elegantly and economically, not ignoring the emotional undercurrents, like the strains between Emmanuèle and Patrice over their childhood experiences or the moments when Emmanuèle escapes to a restroom to weep undetected or nurses a drink at a bar, but playing them with restraint.

The same can be said of the daughters’ approach to their mother Claude (Charlotte Rampling), a sculptress long estranged from André. She’s suffering from Parkinson’s and merely remarks grimly that he doesn’t look so bad on her sole hospital visit before brusquely ordering her nurse to help her out of the room.  André describes Claude as having a heart as cold as the cement she worked with, and one of the occasions on which he becomes exercised is when he discusses where he’ll be buried—not beside her, he insists, since that would place him near his “horrible” in-laws.

The reason behind André and Claude’s hostility is revealed in the appearance of Gérard (Grégory Gadebois), André’s gruff ex-lover, who, among other things, insists that André had promised him his watch.  The sisters despise the fellow, but eventually he does manage to see their father and get what he thinks is his due.  Among other visitors is André’s elderly cousin Simone (Judith Magre), who flies in from America to remonstrate with him over his choice to end his life, arguing that it will be an insult to the relatives who died during the Holocaust.

But nothing will deter André from his decision, though he will postpone the deed until after he can attend his grandson’s (Quentin Redt-Zimmer) clarinet recital.  He also wants to have a final dinner at his favorite restaurant, Voltaire, where he indulges in chocolate mousse and asks his long-time waiter to bring him a bottle of “my Bordeaux.”

A bit of drama arises at the close, when a tip to the police about the reason for André’s planned trip to Switzerland leads to questioning by a businesslike captain (Nathalie Richard) and the ambulance drivers (Aymen Saïdi and Toudo Cissokho) balk at continuing the journey when they find out what André intends to do at their destination, but the problems are resolved with a minimum of fuss; and here, as elsewhere, Ozon adds a few drily humorous touches that lighten further what most other filmmakers would have been inclined to treat as highly-charged melodrama.  He also uses one to emphasize how things differ for people of lesser means; when André expresses surprise at the high cost of the process and wonders how poor folk handle it, Emmanuèle replies simply, “They wait to die.”

The film is anchored by the superbly gauged performances of Marceau and Dussollier, she playing a woman attempting to appear stoic in the face of what her father, who at one point calls her his favorite son, expects her to do (and energetically exercising, a testament to her own determination to fend off aging) and he a man used to getting his way to the very end.  But the entire cast is splendid, down to the smallest roles, with Pailhas’ ambivalence, Rampling’s implacability and Schygulla’s serenity standing out among the ensemble.

That’s a tribute to Ozon’s control of material that could easily have veered into maudlin hand-wringing but in his hands remains resolutely calm and discreet.  That doesn’t mean that “Everything Went Fine” isn’t emotionally rich.  It merely means that the filmmaker, like the characters he’s depicting onscreen, holds the emotion in check, which in reality makes it all the more powerful.  The result is a perceptive and quietly moving examination of a choice that some desire and others deplore.