French filmmaker François Ozon’s “Everything Went Fine” is a fact-based drama that details the moral quandary and legal and logistical obstacles family members face in France when a failing relative asks them the ultimate favor.
“I want you to help me end it.”
But a writer-director known for films that touch on sex, sexuality and sexual tension — “Swimming Pool,” “Young & Beautiful” and the recent “Summer of ’85” are among his credits — was sure to emphasize the unconventional in the story actress-turned-writer Emmanuèle Bernheim told in her memoir, “Tout s’est bien passé.”
That adds to the complications and mixed-emotions of those closest to Andre Bernheim, who decides, after a debilitating stroke, that 84 years on this Earth is enough. Ozon’s cast expertly navigates this downbeat terrain, and find the sometimes humorous irony of helping an unpleasant man and “bad father” get out of their hair.
Parisian sisters Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) and Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) are properly torn-up when father Andre (André Dussollier) has his stroke. Their sculptress mother (the regal Charlotte Rampling) has her own late life health issues — Parkinson’s and depression. Now this.
There’s also this fellow the sisters refer to as “Sh–head” to contend with, someone they see skulking outside of the hospital, not “daring” to visit while one of the two of them are visiting.
As the tubes go in and come out, the diapers and the IV — “That’ll be his food, now.” — the sisters weep and wrestle with this shell of a man they used to know.
But on a Metro ride home, Emmanuèle or “Manue,” as Dad called her, helps a tourist figure out a folding map. That prompts a flashback to her early teens, sitting in the back seat of her father’s ’80s Peugout, trying and failing to give him directions from a similar road map.
“Idiot girl,” he barks (in French with English subtitles), taking the map while driving, only pulling over when she gets carsick. He berated her for eating and we get the impression he didn’t stop there.
So why is Manue the one he choses to say “I want you to help me end it” to?
Pascale figures it’s a “gift,” considering how much she “wished him dead” when she was younger. Manue’s guess is even more blunt.
“Such an ass—e, right to the end.”
The film, seen entirely from Manue’s point of view, is about her efforts to brush past this mortal request, and once that doesn’t work, how she, her sister, their disinterested mother and others deal with it.
And let’s not forget “S—head,” lest he have a stake in all this.
As grim as end-of-life realities and decisions always are, there’s something faintly comical going on here, and not just in the nickname for this nuisance who will make his role in all this known as he lashes out and invades this somber space.
The sisters practically make an art out of taking bad news or being goaded by their father to get on with his wishes by storming out of the room in tears. First one runs away. Then the other. Then the first again. And so on.
And then there’s the worst complication of all, harder to deal with than the logistics of getting a bedridden man out of France, where “death with dignity” laws are more primitive, and into Switzerland.
Once the plans are in motion, this “ass—-” of a father turns whimsical, pleasant, engaged and charming. He remembers put-upon Manue’s birthday, dotes on a grandson, and seems like he might have some will to live after all. Maybe.
“Don’t think I’ve changed my mind,” he mutters.
There’s enough in this true story that seems borrowed from the dark comedy “Death at a Funeral” that I felt Ozon was giving us permission to laugh at some of this. Dad turns into a chatterbox about something he’s planning that’s against the law? That’s either a nasty going-away present for his legally liable daughters, or just comically dense.
The milieu, a privileged French-cinema-specific world in which TVs are never heard, but where everyone listens to Brahms piano sonatas, goes to gallery openings, a wealthy Jewish family touched by but not gutted by The Holocaust (pointedly mentioned) kind of underscores the amused/bemused tone.
If I’m reading that wrong, feel free to correct me, Monsieur Ozon. I have Google Translate.
But deathly-serious or darkly comic, Ozon’s players deftly maneuvre through the emotions, Internet searches and legal consulations of Dad’s journey into Shakespeare’s ultimate “undiscovered country.” The radiant Marceau lets us see the struggle, the fading hopes that Andre will change his mind and her conflicted emotions buried underneath all the planning that falls on her.
Unlike dramas like “The Father” or “Amour,” Ozon gets to “The End” without tears, giving this universal experience another point of view.
What’s happening here could be a bullying father’s sickest trick, or a very complicated way to give everyone in his life closure, And either way, the time for crying is early on in this last act, not at the very end of it.
Rating: unrated, some profanity,adult subject matter
Cast: Sophie Marceau, André Dussollier, Géraldine Pailhas and Charlotte Rampling
Credits: Directed by François Ozon, scripted by François Ozon and Philippe Piazzo, based on a memoir by Emmanuèle Bernheim. A Cohen Media Group release.
Running time: 1:52