Axel analyses the ambitious, albeit unexciting, medical drama from wayward french director François Ozon.
Celebrating its UK premiere as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, Everything Went Fine is the latest from prolific French filmmaker François Ozon, an earnest but rather nondescript drama about assisted suicide.
Having risen to fame as a sort of enfant terrible of French cinema around the turn of the 21st century for his frank treatment of transgressive and sexual subject matter, Ozon has since mellowed into a regular on the French festival circuit, churning out about a film a year over the last two decades with very little in the way of an authorial signature as connective tissue. His recent project choices have at times seemed as if Ozon had simply snatched up the first book he found on the best sellers shelf of an airport WHSmith and made a film out of it: an erotic drama between a woman and her psychiatrist (L’Amant double) was followed by an All the President’s Men-style investigation of the child abuse scandal in the French Catholic Church (By the Grace of God) and an 80s holiday romance that didn’t even try to hide the fact that it was ripping off Call Me by Your Name (Summer of 85).
Everything Went Fine is, yet again, a literary adaptation, although one that will have been a great deal more personal to its writer-director, recounting as it does the autobiographical story of Emmanuèle Bernheim, Ozon’s writing partner for some of his biggest successes, including Swimming Pool and Under the Sand. Following a stroke, Bernheim’s father (here played by André Dussollier) is confined to a hospital bed and in need of constant care, upon which he asks Emmanuèle (played by Sophie Marceau) to help him put an end to his life. As assisted suicide is strictly illegal in France, Emmanuèle and her sister Pascale get in touch with a Swiss organisation in order to respect their father’s wishes.
Watching this, I was actually reminded of another French film shown at this year’s festival, Audrey Diwan’s Happening. Similar to how that film dramatised the difficulty of ending a pregnancy at a time when abortions were illegal, Everything Went Fine focuses on the day-to-day bureaucratic struggles in a legal system that doesn’t give its citizens the freedom to decide over their own bodies. This approach does indeed yield some powerful moments capturing the absurd mundanity of the situation, as when the Bernheims have to schedule the day André will die without it falling on the same week as his daughter’s birthday. Unfortunately, Ozon’s cinematic language remains bound to a rather strict naturalism that gives the whole film the feeling of a Sunday night made-for-TV drama, hitting all the expected story beats as if on autopilot.
One of the most compelling but ultimately underdeveloped parts of the film is the relationship between Emmanuèle and her father. As seen in flashbacks, André was far from a loving parent and Emmanuèle struggles with caring for a man who failed to care for her the way she wanted him to. At one point, Ozon visualises Emmanuèle as a young girl holding a gun to present-day André’s head – a dream image that rather subversively combines the fulfilment of the father’s wish with the teenage daughter’s bottled-up rage. It’s an artistic flourish the film could have used far more of and that Ozon fails to follow up on.
At another point, we see a man’s body getting brutally torn apart on a table saw in an underground torture chamber. On a TV screen, that is, as Emmanuèle is delighting in watching the 2007 French horror film Frontier(s). Perhaps this is an acknowledgement of a repressed penchant for violence residing within Emmanuèle. But in quoting from a film belonging to the same movement of extreme French cinema that he himself formed part of in his earlier career, all that Ozon does is underline how conventional his own filmmaking has since become.