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Death Wish

Carole Bethuel/Curzon Film

Everything Went Fine (2022)

Broadly speaking, François Ozon directs two kinds of movies. The first are about young gay men getting themselves into a situation that ends with somebody dying. The second kind are about women in some sort of family-themed trap, to which they learn they must submit. The traps vary (a crappy marriage in “5x2,” a slutty houseguest in “Swimming Pool,” a parasitic twin in “Double Lover”) but they cannot be escaped, and writhing in the net only draws the knots tighter. The daughters in “Everything Went Fine” learned their lessons about their gilded cage in childhood, and tell anyone who asks that it’s impossible to deny their father anything. Mr Ozon must have been thrilled to option the memoir by Emmanuèle Bernheim, the late screenwriter of “5x2” and “Swimming Pool,” on which this movie is based. This is a family in which the ties do significantly more than bind.

Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) and Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) are the middle-aged daughters of André (André Dussollier), a wealthy 80something factory owner turned art collector who is used to asserting total control. After a stroke, he recovers in a private clinic in central Paris, where he flirts with the nurses and delights in playing his daughters against each other. They are used to his manipulations and rarely rise to the bait, and anyway there is the escalating problem of Gérard (Grégory Gadebois) a.k.a. Shithead, their father’s sloppy, troubled on-and-off fancy man. Pascale has two children – a teenage daughter who laughs about how little André cares for her and a younger son upon whom André dotes – so the primary caretaking responsibilities fall to Emmanuèle. As depicted, they mostly involve her remembering the names of the various clinicians on staff. Things are not difficult for this family; at one point André asks Emmanuèle how poor people do it, and she simply replies, “They wait to die.” This is the closest anyone comes to self-awareness, but it does mean the occasional indignities André suffers are probably the first time since childhood that he has had so much as his feelings hurt. And those indignities are the main reason André instructs Emmanuèle on his final wish: suicide.

Hicham Alaouie’s workday cinematography draws little attention to itself, which allows the human drama to remain the center of attention. Ms. Marceau began acting as a teenager and achieved international success by seducing Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” and then going toe-to-toe with Pierce Brosnan in “The World Is Not Enough.” After all that drama, how hard should it be to boss around one old man? But Emmanuèle simply cannot do it – she loves her father as he is and will give him anything he wants, even at risk of years in prison. The family’s money and excellent lawyers put protective barriers in place, but Emmanuèle must go online herself and locate a clinic in Switzerland, run by a retired magistrate (Hanna Schygulla, radiating a firm dignity that’s incredibly reassuring) who now arranges these gentle deaths. Their meetings involve much conversation about legal maneuverings, cash for expenses and various other practicalities, and not a word about whether or not this is a good idea. The fact that the drama comes from evading state concern instead of something as inelegant as interpersonal conflict rather lowers the stakes.

The exception to this bloodless emotionalism is Claude (Charlotte Rampling), Emmanuèle’s mother and still André’s wife, although they have lived separately for years. She comes to visit André in the hospital precisely once. Her bedside scowl of contempt and discomfort would be enough to make the sickest creature recover, if only never to be looked at like that again. Honestly, if there was ever a woman that could send Death whimpering away in fear, it is Ms. Rampling. But the movie is strangely uninterested in her, except for the awkward fact that she exists. Claude’s opinion about the situation is not solicited by her daughters, and she is so preoccupied with her own health issues that no solace is offered, or expected. It’s a very necessary thorn in this bunch of roses, but it’s a shame the movie does not make the most of actress and character both.

It’s not a coincidence the best end-of-life stories are told by women; men’s stories on the topic tend to get stuck on the fact that the suffering is happening at all, while women tend to have both caretaking experience as well as empathy, such as that found in the memoirs by Alix Kates Shulman, Joan Didion and Roz Chast, or the novel by Miriam Toews which inspired the film “All My Puny Sorrows.” That movie is better, not least because of its awareness of class and money issues, as well as forthrightness about how the religion of our childhood shapes how we deal with our last days. Here religion is barely mentioned, and no one in the family circle is gauche enough to practice. The cousin who survived the Holocaust (Judith Magre) is preferred at a distance, mostly due to her horror at André’s plans, but her concern is unwelcome even as Emmanuèle repeatedly brings up her story to gain sympathy from strangers.

It is also an aggravating truth that the majority of people with the inclination to tell end-of-life stories are freelance artists, i.e., people with the career flexibility and financial stability to devote their entire attention to it, both as it’s happening and after. The central issue in “Everything Went Fine” is entirely and only whether Emmanuèle, with the assistance of Pascale and their bottomless pile of money, will be able to beat bureaucracy to grant André his final wish. Most carers still have to work even as their world is upended, and it’s a disappointment Mr. Ozon didn’t examine any of the privilege on show here. On the other hand, all the wealth in the world buys no one freedom from death, and keeping the suffering is as minimal as possible means this isn’t an unpleasant watch.

This means you have the chance to admire a world-class cast as they bring dignity and thoughtfulness to a story of pain and suffering. André’s wounded pride manifests in contempt for his illness and anyone who stands in his way; and Mr. Dussollier manages the mood swings between attentive honeybunch, frightened man in pain and manipulative bastard with ease. He also goes nearly nude, in a remarkable act of empathy for the audience, to show us what our future holds, if we’re lucky. Ms. Schygulla and Ms. Rampling do not have enough to do except remind us of what powerhouses they remain; and Ms. Marceau calmly and with little outward fuss holds the whole movie together. The daily business of the end of your life is as frustrating and exhausting as many of the days which come before. The lesson here is that a calm acceptance of the fact will make things easier all around. Mr. Ozon is the perfect director for this material.


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