June Butler takes a look at François Ozon’s family drama.
Based on the novel Everything Went Well by Emmanuele Bernheim, this 2021 French drama tackles the contentious and thorny issue of assisted dying. Andre Bernheim (Andre Dussollier), a wealthy art collector who, at eighty-five years old, has had a stroke and soon realises that auxiliary issues linked to the condition are worse than he could have imagined. Having lived his entire life blessed with robust health, Andre despairs at a slew of human frailties and rages at his lot. Bernheim is a man used to doling out unpleasant truths and back-handed comments. When it comes to his own life, the once manly behemoth has been felled by a quiet assassin which reduces him to a shell. Despite the post-stroke prognosis being excellent, in perhaps a fit of malicious pique, Andre decides to depart this life on his terms and his alone. Having declared his intentions, Andre proceeds to manipulate and cajole his two long-suffering daughters, Emmanuele (Sophie Marceau) and Pascale (Geraldine Pailhas), into accepting the status quo despite the obvious distress it may cause them.
Emmanuele is the older of Andre’s children and as such, seems to have endured both the best and the worst of her father. Claude, her mother, played with steely-eyed grimness by Charlotte Rampling, suffering from Parkinson’s and the deepest of depression, does not appear to be hugely moved by Andre’s latest manifestation of tyranny. Andre dismisses Emmanuele’s claim that Claude will come to visit Andre in hospital if she feels up to it. Andre becomes enraged and states that Claude has never been up to doing anything given that as far back as he can recall, Claude has been ill with some malaise or other. He says that Claude has a heart of stone, a declaration that provokes no response from Emmanuele.
Andre is a narcissist who ironically, given his uncaring attitude towards Emmanuele and Pascale, believes his wife is unfeeling and distant. He thrives on drama and uses his wealth to persuade others to do his dirty work. Narcissists generally like to be the focus of all attention and when they are unable to engender a central position, they tend to employ methods that are manifestly exploitative. Criticising his wife as indifferent and unengaged is hypocritical when Andre patently lacks even the slightest hint of compassion. When his eldest daughter Emmanuele shows distress at Bernheim’s wish to end his life, Andre does not care in the slightest and the narrative flashes back to Manu’s childhood when her father would call her names and verbally abuse her.
Adding to the dramatic tension, Andre is gay – an aspect that caused friction when he married Claude. He refuses to be buried with Claude’s parents as he states they always disliked him because he was ‘homosexual’, opting instead to purchase an entirely new plot which he blithely assumes Claude will want to share with him when her time comes.
The finest performance acknowledgement must go to Andre Dussollier who steals every scene he appears in. At times conniving and self-centred, there is a sense of recognition and grudging admiration for someone who has lived unapologetically, for better, for worse, regardless of the pain he has caused. In some ways, Bernheim’s disdain and dismissal of others, is what propels him to take the course he has. A kinder man would perhaps not be so dogged but Bernheim’s bloody-mindedness and selfish is what makes this film so challenging and so divisive. On the one hand, it could be argued Andre should be able to do what he chooses, on the other, getting married, having children, those familial links do not cease the moment a child is begotten or the second a couple divorce. It is the argument for and against euthanasia that makes Everything Went Fine so tricky to narrate. Andre Bernheim is an unpleasant and disagreeable character but who exactly is he living for? Should he continue merely existing to placate others or is it his choice to make as to the hour and minute of his demise? Whose life is it anyway?
Sophie Marceau puts in a fine performance as Andre’s brittle and moody daughter Emmanuele, bewailing her father’s impending decision yet loathing him for putting her through such pain. Geraldine Pailhas is exceptional as Pascale – the younger daughter who has been largely left out of the toxic triumvirate but still must endure the devastating fallout. Despite the brevity of her screen appearance, Charlotte Rampling is outstanding as the quiet but intense Claude who has been spurned so many times. To round off, Gregory Gadebois excels as Gerard, Andre’s erratic and violent ‘gigolo’ boyfriend, aptly described as ‘shithead’ by both daughters.
Everything Went Fine addresses the grief of knowing that relationships between family members are not always enough to make someone want to remain in this world and attempts to define the trauma of rejection when a parent or child chooses to die in this manner.
Determined and magnificent, Everything Went Fine is unflinching, heroic, and valiant.
Everything Went Fine is in cinemas from 17th June 2022.