IT WOULD be facile to regard Everything Went Fine (Cert.15) as a polemic on the merits of euthanasia. The French writer-director François Ozon, whose work includes By the Grace of God (Arts, 1 November 2019), about clerical abuse, is far too subtle for that. The free-spirited André (André Dussollier) has a stroke in old age. He asks his daughter Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) to help him to end his life. Nothing — including his continuing to make a reasonably good recovery — persuades him to think otherwise.
It sums the man up: primarily selfish, with no regard for the heartache that he is causing Emmanuèle and her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas). This affluent art collector can afford the costs of assisted suicide in Switzerland. As beneficiaries of his will, his reluctant children, if they co-operate with him, are exposed to criminal charges. Their mother, Claude (Charlotte Rampling), suffers from depression and has totally withdrawn.
We never really learn what anyone believes about life, let alone death. André, a Jew, describes religion as bullshit; but that occurs in the rare context of his not getting his way. A devout Muslim ambulance driver refuses to act contrary to his faith. His Christian colleague also challenges their patient. “Why do you want to die? Life is beautiful.” The scene ends before there is a response.
Paradoxically, the father instructs the daughters to have the Kaddish prayer of mourning recited at his interment. Ozon has stated that this is requested merely on aesthetic grounds.
The film is based on his late writing partner Emmanuèle Bernheim’s novelisation of her own experience with the real-life André. Perhaps the book, unlike the film, makes this clear. Everything Went Fine strives to portray the women’s father as irresistibly charismatic, incapable of being refused. His charms were lost on me. Here is someone unwilling to take kindly the counsel of the years; nor, on the other hand, is there much rage against the dying of the light. No profound exploration is offered of his motivation. “It’s not me any more,” he wails, whereas this is simply the latest manifestation of a life lived entirely for his own satisfaction.
What utterly redeems the picture is the sensitive performances of the daughters. Marceau’s Emmanuèle takes the brunt of her father’s tantrums, lies, and ingratitude. Yet she goes on loving him, as does Pascale. We learn quite a bit of what is entailed in proceeding to assisted dying, but that isn’t the main issue. It is more about how family and friends react to the forthcoming death of a loved one, whether through natural causes or deliberate choice. We should also bear in mind that the original title of this piece, Tout s’est bien passé, is better translated as everything went “well” rather than the generically casual “fine”.
It holds out the possibility that things will continue getting even better. Whatever humanity’s machinations in the face of death, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.