At a particularly dark time in the history of cinema, when 90% of everything I see on the screen is sadly dull, pointless and forgettable, leave it to the French to elevate the cinema with something beautiful, touching and memorable. Written and directed by the prolific Francois Ozon, Everything went well is an exemplary work that intelligently explores the pros and cons of euthanasia with a love, truthfulness and strength rarely captured on film. If you fall into the dwindling category of moviegoers who demand more from movies than mindless garbage, this will restore your faith in humanity.
EVERYTHING WENT WELL ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
Emmanuelle 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 its terrible consequences, they rush to take responsibility, care for and prepare for his inevitable death. The Bernheims are a sophisticated bunch—highly educated, professionally accomplished, and culturally advanced—so it’s not surprising that they handle misfortune with reserves of calm and control, but in a crisis they can still experience pain and grief intensely. The film peels back the layers of guarded emotion in the interplay between their father and various relatives and friends, but Mr. Bernheim gets on the nerves of his two already worried daughters even more when he confides in them his desire to help him die with dignity.
Emanuele is a writer, her husband Serge is a film historian planning a Luis Buñuel retrospective; Pascal is a musician with two children. These are mature people ready to spend an extra existence to enrich the last days of their father’s life, but he is a man with many contradictory personality changes – short-tempered, temperamental, demanding, defiant – and he is also gay, with a cruel, dangerous a lover who doesn’t want you to say goodbye, even if it means reporting everyone to the police to face arrest and jail time. Even worse, there is no help from Emanuele and Pascale Claude’s mother, a famous sculptor who has been separated from their father for years and suffers from depression and the last stages of Parkinson’s disease. A small but stimulating bonus to Everything went well is Charlotte Rampling’s cameo performance as the mother. This film is further proof that she can do no wrong in any role, no matter the size.
It all sounds relentlessly sad and hopeless, but a mesmerizing fascination ensues as the film takes the viewer through the myriad complications in the lives of a diverse cast of characters as Emanuele investigates the legal ramifications of assisted suicide. From the confusion of personality to the carefully detailed regimen of anti-depressants, statins and blood thinners that keep the old man alive as his family struggles to get him to a clinic in Switzerland that will legally end his pain and give him freedom, to the aftermath of phone call confirming “All went well,” Mr. Ozon’s precise script and compassionate direction leave no stone unturned in telling this true story, based on Emmanuelle Bernheim’s book, published after her father’s death, and enhanced immensely by a perfect cast that includes the captivating Sophie Marceau as Emmanuelle, Géraldine Payas as Pascale, veteran actress Hanna Szygula as the woman who leads the real Swiss organization that provides solutions to terminally ill patients. Most of all, Andre Dusalier’s multifaceted central performance as the father is profoundly devastating.
Movies about aging gracefully and dying heroically are often shunned like a virus by audiences looking for happier, funnier, feel-good themes. I hope this is not the case with Everything went well. It is life-affirming and teaches us something valid about life’s unexpected but inevitable challenges, avoiding all temptations to succumb to sentimentality. It’s really a very nice movie.
Reviewers’ reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.