Francois Ozon's latest is admirably clever and mature, but its emotional impact can feel rather subdued at times
If a dramedy about an elderly father asking his daughters to help him commit assisted suicide in Switzerland sounds like it might end up a treacly, sentimental mess, one of writer-director Francois Ozon’s smartest moves is to head that worry off at the pass from the very title. As the phrase Everything Went Fine suggests, this is an honest and brusque, but still kind and caring, look at the end of life, one that trades big emotional moments for quiet authenticity.
Adapting the autobiographical novel by Emmanuelle Bernheim (who served as screenwriter for a couple of Ozon’s directorial efforts), Everything Went Fine follows Emmanuelle (played by Sophie Marceau) after her father Andre (Andre Dussollier) is hospitalised by a stroke. Terrified by his own body failing him in such a way, Andre asks Emmanuelle and her sister Pascale (Geraldine Pailhas, seemingly styled to look as much as possible like Juliette Binoche) to help him end his life on his own terms. Naturally, it’s a shattering request for the sisters, made more complex by their own muddled relationships with Andre and the fact that, throughout the film, he makes a notable physical recovery.
Ozon is less interested in interrogating the morality of assisted suicide than he is in the emotional impact of this specific request in this specific family unit. Both Emmanuelle and Pascale want to talk Andre out of it, but his one true constant is stubbornness, and his refusal to change his mind is both frustrating and freeing for the pair, their guilt about considering the procedure lessened by Andre’s non-stop badgering. It’s a complicated and very grown-up set of feelings at play here, allowing for strong, layered performances from all the leads.
Marceau and Pailhas have an instantly believable bond and the way they make each other laugh and share an intra-familial language will be familiar to anyone with siblings of their own. Dussollier obviously gets to do the most capital-A Acting as Andre, furious at his own decrepitude but also movingly fearful – a throughline shared by Charlotte Rampling in a talismanic role as Andre’s depressed sculptor wife Claude. We’re so used to Rampling being formidable at this point that to see her as she is here, all resigned confusion and unhappiness, is a genuine shock.
It’s one of the not-too-many reminders we get that this is a Francois Ozon film, alongside a couple of stark dream sequences and one particularly distressing medical incident involving Andre. Rather like his Catholic abuse drama By the Grace of God, Ozon here tones down his typical provocations and stylistic luxuriance (although there is some absolutely bizarre and distracting wig-work going on in the occasional flashback scenes). It feels like a fitting choice, given the subject matter, but it does mean decent chunks of Everything Went Fine can feel rather generic and personality-free.
A film like this often lives or dies on its ending, and Ozon, for the most part, lands it with grace and subtlety, though we maybe could have done without an eleventh hour twist that ends up feeling like padding. The big tears never come, Ozon instead reminding us that life goes on as family units recover and reshape themselves, a fittingly understated final message for a clever but subdued film.
Everything Went Fine is now showing in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.Where to watch