Sunday 6 March 2022

33rd Alliance Française French Film Festival 2022 - Janice Tong' first Filmic Postcard - TOUT S'EST BIEN PASSÉ/EVERYTHING WENT FINE (François Ozon, 2021)

The opening scene. Sophie Marceau, Everything Went Fine

This year’s selection at the
 Alliance Française French Film Festival shows that we’re back in fine form. Covid disruptions didn’t dampen the production of the wide range of films, nor did it still the production of good strong characterisation that I’ve come to love in French films throughout the years. 

Just like last year, I curated this year’s festival viewing order by kicking it off with a François Ozon film (I do like a temporal echo or a doubling where possible). Last year’s upbeat and romantic Été 85, (Summer of 852020) where the summer sun and youthfulness harked back to my own childhood back in the late 80s, of first loves and the freedom of being a teenager. This year’s film,Tout s'est bien passé, (Everything Went Fine, 2021) is a completely different affair. It deals with the difficult end of life choice – and examines the nature of such a request, the complexities and the many emotions a family has to deal with when being asked to assist in ending the life of someone they love. 


The story opens with Emmanuèle Bernheim(Sophie Marceau) sitting in her study in front of her laptop; the room is bright and she’s surrounded by books. She receives a phone call and exits her apartment in a hurry, a little comical when she had to dash back inside to put on her contact lenses. As an audience, we still do not know why she’s had to rush out, except that in most narratives, we expect not very good news to follow. Her father André Bernheim has just suffered a stroke, and she meets her sister Pascale(Géraldine Pailhas) outside the hospital where she has been waiting. They rush by their father’s side once his tests have been done and immediately realisation hits, the effects of the stroke are plainly drawn on their father’s face. You can immediately see that he’s paralysed to some degree. 

The sisters. Geraldine Pailhas, Sophie Marceau,
Everything went Fine


The inimitable André Dussollier gives his all as André Bernheim. The actor has become completely transparent, and you only see Bernheim, without artifice. I thought quite deeply about his role after watching the film, and despite the common reaction of ‘he must have found it difficult to play such a role’, I thought quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s because as you get older, your approach to death changes. You accept that it is inevitable for all of us to die, and that you should not be fearful of your own death. Dussollier’s uncompromising performance meant that you get to experience the human in all its facets and conducts when you come face-to-face with this inevitability. Even paralysed by the stroke and facing the end, he is not without desire or passion; so that at the ripe old age of 85, he is still flirting with good-looking young men, and his spirits rise when doing so. You can only imagine his younger self; in the film, he takes a liking to the young man who was assisting him with physical therapy, and again with the ambulance drivers, or with his favourite waiter Thierry at Le Voltaire; basically, with any young man who catches his eye when his spirits were up.

André Dussollier gives his all as André Bernheim


As the film progresses, although Bernheim’s mobility and strength was improving: being able to take solid food, have visitors call in, can sit up by himself and even allowing his violent ex-lover (Daniel Mesguich) visit him, despite his agitation after the visit. Bernheim’s whim of ‘wanting to end it all’ becomes not so much a whim, but a persistent demand that begins to wear down the recipients of this request. But moreover, this demand requires action and careful planning from his daughters for the wish to be fulfilled at all. 


For his daughters, Manue and Pascale, dealing with their father’s plaintive request is a different matter altogether; perhaps because Bernheim had asked Manue only and not Pascale, (he talked to his nurses and doctors about it too). Reflection on this request by Manue was quietly thought through a series of memory fragments: of the father/daughter relationship with her younger self. Pascale’s reception of this news was more reactive and she oscillates from feeling one way and then the other. 


At its core, the film is sober, tender and unflinching in its exploration of the human psyche and family dynamics. To be able to decipher whether their father meant it ‘for real’ is not the same as their ability or willingness to accept his request; and yet another, again, to take on the task at hand of arranging for his assisted suicide. 

The wonderful Hanna Schygulla (centre) 


The word euthanasia comes from the Greek, with the word eumeaning ‘good’ and thanatos meaning ‘death’. The ‘good death’, can this be possible? The moment when Bernheim finally got his ‘wish’ confirmed, following a meeting with the visiting Swiss woman (the wonderful Hanna Schygulla) who would later be overseeing his final act, he was elated. After finding out how much this all costs, Bernheim’s question of ‘what do poor people do?’ and his daughter’s answer ‘they have to wait for death to come’ is a stark reminder of what it means to have a choice, and there is a very fine line between assisted euthanasia and choosing death. The film’s continual affirmation of ‘choosing life’ is also a good counterpoint here, as much as for Bernheim as well as, finally, his daughters, his decision and their acceptance of it, is not as black and white as about choosing death or choosing life. It is about choosing to die with dignity. 


This ‘grey’ area has a tremendously beautiful response within the film, from Bernheim’s estranged wife, Claude (Charlotte Rampling  is given a flinty and detached character). In a flashback, Manue was watching Claude make one of her sculptures, and asks her mother ‘why don’t you ever use colours in your sculptures?’. Claude’s reply was ‘grey is a colour, there are many colours in grey’. And perhaps this is what Ozon has set out to show us; that choosing to end your life with dignity doesn’t diminish the ability or colour of the departing person. Instead, it gives the opportunity to say farewell to loved ones, to put affairs in order, to have the comfort of family around (although Bernheim‘tricked’ his cousins to come over from the US) and to have a last meal.  For Bernheim this was at Le Voltaireand I can certainly understand why. 

A touching portrayal of father/daughter relationship.


I had not realised that this film was based on a true story until the dedication at the end, it’s from a book by Emmanuèle Bernheim, who was the daughter of art collector André Bernheim and sculptress Claude de Soria (you can take a look at her sculptures here). ‘Manue’ as she was called in the film passed away in 2017, and her book Tout s'est bien passé was published by Gallimard in 2013. She wrote a number of novels and was a collaborator with Ozon in developing scenarios for two of his earlier films, Swimming Pool (2003) and 5x2(2004). She had also adapted her novel Vendredi soir into a screenplay for Claire Denis’ film of the same name in 2002. I still remember how much I loved that film when I saw it at the French Film Festivaltwenty years ago; the grainy feel of the night, glimpses of the sky and that mad long drive in reverse gear down a one-way street. 


In some way, Emmanuèle Bernheim’s connection with Ozonmust have been his impetus to bring her novel to life and to tackle this difficult subject. His dedication to her at the end of the film was, to me at least, a very touching personal note. And the inclusion of that detail at the start of the film – of having Emmanuèle come back inside the apartment to put on her contact lenses before rushing to the hospital – makes this story a personal one, rather than reading it only symbolically: of the need to see things clearly.

Geraldine Pailhas, François Ozon, Charlotte Rampling,
Sophie Marceau on the set in the sculptor's studio


The phrase ‘everything went fine’ are the words Schygulla’s character said to Manue over the phone. They are not so much words of comfort, but they describe a state of affairs in a practical manner that is to be understood as the greatest care had been given.


There are so many touching and funny moments in this film. Bernheim’s love of music (he played the piano and used to accompany his grandson), especially Brahms, meant that he had to ask Manue to reschedule his appointment in Switzerland, by a few days, as though it was any other appointment, in order to attend his grandson’s recital. His inability to keep a secret, as euthanasia is illegal in France, by carelessly telling everyone his plans, was as though he was going out of his way to sabotage what had been difficult to orchestrate physically and emotionally. Marceau, who I’ve really not seen very much of in recent years is beautiful and graceful as Manue, and Éric Caravaca who was in Ozon’s By the Grace of God (2018) is wonderful as her lover/partner.


I also loved the reference to a retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française on Luis Buñuel, which I’m assuming was a real event. Manue’s lover is none other than Serge Toubiana who was the director of the Cinémathèque Française between 2003 and 2016 and editor in chief of the Cahiers du Cinéma for many years.  His involvement started in 1974 and formally finished in 2000. He is currently serving his second term as president of UniFrance. There’s a very beautiful article that Toubiana wrote as a farewell to his friend Claudine Paquot in Senses of Cinema in 2011.



The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently showing in SydneyMelbourneCanberra and Perth from now to the 6th April across a number of theatres. Hobart from 9th to 20th March, Brisbane from 16th March to 13th April, and a little later in Byron Bay, 30th March to 13th April, Victor Harbour 4th to 11th April and Adelaide from 24th March to 26th April.

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