A film about a daughter helping her father to kill himself doesn’t sound like appointment viewing – unless you work at Dignitas (or some other physician-assisted-suicide organisation) – but in the hands of director François Ozon it is just that. There’s an “all human life is here” aspect to Everything Went Fine (Tout S’est Bien Passé originally) – it’s compassionate, dignified, funny at times, poignant and also triumphant.
In a thumbnail, the film focuses on the relationship between a daughter (Sophie Marceau) and her father (André Dussollier) after he, in his mid 80s, has a stroke. He recovers a bit but he’s a shadow of his former self, paralysed down one side, mouth dangling, his right eye half rolled in its socket. Help me kill myself, dad André eventually asks Emmanuèle, I don’t want to live like this.
She is shocked, horrified, but at more insistent urging on his part, she decides to go along with her father’s wishes and reluctantly sets the process in motion, getting in touch with a clinic in Switzerland, where suicide isn’t illegal, and where they handle this sort of thing (and which might as well be Dignitas, since they use the same method).
At this point I looked at the time. About 25 minutes had elapsed, of a film that lasts one hour 53 minutes. So there’s a lot of time to go. I wondered how Ozon was going to fill it.
The story is a true one and was written by Ozon’s frequent collaborator Emmanuèle Bernheim, who as well as having scripted 5X2, Ricky, Under the Sand and Swimming Pool for Ozon, also wrote the novel Vendredi Soir, which Claire Denis made into one of her best movies. The answer to the question of how Ozon is going to fill the time is answered by Bernheim’s memoirist’s eye for particulars and her fastidious recording of all the various twists and turns – practical and emotional – as the daughter readies her art-collector father and herself for his final big day.
The salmon and cream cheese sandwich which dad takes a bite from but can’t get any further with. Emmanuèle takes it home, puts it in the fridge, and the next day puts it in the freezer – it’s probably the last real food dad will eat and now she has a monument to his existence in the bite mark in the bread. Or Emmanuèle’s regular stints at the gym, on the running machine, doing boxercise, even putting in her contact lenses, all suggestions that decline and fall are coming her way too, and it’s something she’s wrestling with.
Dad could so easily be emotionally idealised, but isn’t. He’s an “asshole”, Emmanuèle and her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) agree, a terrible dad who turned out not to be that heterosexual either. One of his old lovers – who Emmanuèle and Pascale refer to as “shithead” (Grégory Gadebois) – keeps turning up, angry and aggressive, like a particularly unwanted vulture. André’s estranged wife, played like a dusty statue by Charlotte Rampling, has Parkinson’s and has been depressed since Emmanuèle was born, she says. A strange old dame, barely alive herself, which would be more ironic if more were made of it.
The woman from the clinic, played by Hanna Schygulla, all no-nonsense demeanour, a folder full of forms to fill in, yet a kind smile and honest answers to Emmanuèle’s questions. “La dame suisse” (as she’s billed) also has one question for Emmanuèle – is dad able to drink? He has to be able to administer the lethal draft himself, else it’ll be murder, not assisted suicide.
This assisted-death business is not easy – there are lawyers to consult, relatives to inform, some of them entirely against the idea, and, finally, farewells to be said. Ozon structures the last third of the film like a chase thriller, so we’re actually willing dad to get what he wants, while other forces (the police, family, an ambulance driver with sudden religious scruples) conspire against him.
Marceau holds it together with a performance subjected to minuscule scrutiny by Ozon’s up-close camera, and Dussollier dances beautifully around his character as the angry, sad, defeated, jubilant father who’s had it all his own way his entire life and is determined to have it his way as he approaches death.
Everything Went Fine aka Tout S’est Bien Passé – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2023