‘Everything Went Fine’ Review: A Life-Affirming Examination of Death

This beautifully rendered French film looks at life's unexpected but unavoidable challenges, as two sisters grapple with their father's desire for a medically assisted end to his life.

Sophie Marceau, Géraldine Pailhas and André Dussollier (from left) in ‘Everything Went Fine.’ Cohen Media

At a particularly bleak time in movie history when a good 90% of everything I see on the screen is regrettably dumb, pointless and forgettable, leave it to the French to elevate the cinema with something beautiful, touching and memorable. Written and directed by the prolific François Ozon, Everything Went Fine is an exemplary work that intelligently explores the pros and cons of euthanasia with the kind of  love, truthfulness and power that is rarely captured on film. If you fall into the dwindling category of filmgoers who demand more from motion pictures than mindless junk, it will restore your faith in humanity.

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EVERYTHING WENT FINE ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
Directed by: François Ozon
Written by: François Ozon
Starring: Sophie Marceau, André Dussollier, Géraldine Pailhas, Charlotte Rampling, Hanna Schygulla, Éric Caravaca, Grégory Gadebois
Running time: 113 mins.


Emmanuele and Pascale Bernheim are loving and devoted sisters in a prominent and cultured Jewish family in Paris. When their elderly father Andre suffers a crippling stroke and all of its dire consequences, they rush to face responsibility, administer care, and prepare for his inevitable death. The Bernheims are a sophisticated lot—highly educated, professionally accomplished, and culturally advanced—so it is not surprising that they handle misfortune with reserves of calm and control, but in a crisis they can still feel pain and sorrow intensely. The film peels away layers of guarded emotion in the internecine relationships between their father and various relatives and friends, but Mr. Bernheim touches his two already worried  daughters’ raw nerves even more when he confides in them his desire for them to help him die with dignity.

Emmanuele is a novelist, her husband Serge is a film historian planning a retrospective on Luis Bunuel; Pascale is a musician with two children. These are mature people willing to go the extra existence to enrich the final days in their father’s life, but he’s a man of many conflicting personality shifts—irascible, temperamental, demanding, challenging—and he’s also gay, with a violent, dangerous lover reluctant to say goodbye, even if it means reporting everyone to the police to face arrest and a prison sentence. Worse still, there’s no help from Emmanuele and Pascale’s mother Claude, a notable sculptress separated from their father for years and suffering from depression and the last stages of Parkinson’s disease. A small but galvanizing bonus to Everything Went Fine is the cameo performance by Charlotte Rampling as the mother. This film is further proof that she can do no wrong in any role, regardless of size.

It all sounds relentlessly sad and hopeless, but a mesmerizing fascination ensues as the film leads the viewer through myriad complications in the lives of a diverse group of characters as Emmanuele investigates the legal consequences of assisted suicide. From the personality snafus to the carefully detailed regimen of antidepressants, statins and blood thinners that keep the old man alive while his family struggles to get him to a clinic in Switzerland that will legally terminate his pain and give him freedom, to the aftermath of the phone call confirming that “Everything went fine,” Mr. Ozon’s meticulous screenplay and compassionate direction leave no stone unturned in telling this true story, based on the book Emmanuele Bernheim published following her father’s death, and enhanced immensely by a perfect cast that includes the ravishing Sophie Marceau as Emmanuele, Geraldine Pailhas as Pascale, veteran actress Hanna Schygulla as the woman who runs the actual Swiss organization that provides solutions to terminally ill patients. Most of all, the multi-faceted centerpiece performance by Andre Dussallier as the father is deeply devastating.  

Movies about growing old gracefully and dying heroically are often avoided like a virus by audiences seeking happier and more entertaining feel-good subjects. I hope this is not the case with Everything Went Fine. It’s life-affirming and teaches us something valid about life’s unexpected but unavoidable challenges, eschewing all temptations to give in to sentimentality. It’s a very fine film indeed.


Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

 

‘Everything Went Fine’ Review: A Life-Affirming Examination of Death