Film

Everything Went Fine: A right-to-die story that’s strangely life-affirming 

Despite the sombre subject matter, Everything Went Fine sparkes with wonderful moments of outré humour, writes Graeme Virtue

everything went fine

Marceau, Pailhas and Dussollier tackle a heavy topic with a lightness of tone. Photo: Carole Bethuel/Mandarin Films

This week sees the release of Pixar blockbuster Lightyear, a strange quasi-biopic of the supposed real-life space captain who inspired Toy Story’s lantern-jawed Buzz Lightyear action figure. But Buzz is not the only person declaring it their mission to go to infinity and beyond. The new French drama Everything Went Fine begins with octogenarian art collector André Bernheim (André Dussollier) undergoing an MRI after a stroke.

Though his right side is palsied, drooping his eye and loosening his lip, there is still the palpable sense of a formidable grand patron used to having things his own way. Even propped up in a hospital bed, André is self-regarding, theatrical and more than a little scathing.  

His grown-up daughters Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) and Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) are relieved that he is alive, but are obviously concerned about these new circumstances. Emmanuèle, a writer, puts a brave face on things – “My father’s strong, he always recovers,” she declares – but after a period of recuperation, having moved to a slightly fancier clinic, he has a request for her. André wants Emmanuèle to help him end it all. 

This request does not come entirely out of the blue – the family has been warned that there is a high risk of relapse – but it still seems like a shock. For his part, André seems to be genuinely adamant even if he clearly gets some pleasure from whipping up a whirlwind of drama. But there is the very real fear that another neurological event could rob him of even more of himself. At least this way he could make a conscious decision about his ultimate fate. 

What follows is an unusual mix of emotionally charged life-or-death family arguments interspersed with methodical scenes of the slightly frazzled Emmanuèle researching what is still considered a taboo topic. Owing to end-of-life practices in France, fulfilling her father’s dying wish will require some careful legal footwork and a late-night dash to Switzerland. If the gendarmes get a whiff of their plans, Emmanuèle – and Pascale, who has been drafted in to help – could face prosecution.

Adding to the sense of volatility is their father’s fractious relationship with their ailing artist mother Claude (Charlotte Rampling) and the unpredictable actions of the bearish Gérard (Grégory Gadebois), a former close confidant clearly stricken by André’s condition.  

After discreetly making contact with a “death lady” – a retired German magistrate who seems almost too kindly and calm – Emmanuèle and Pascale are walked through the assisted suicide procedure. Upon arriving in Bern, their father must pass a lucidity test; he must also be the one who physically drinks the draught that will send him to sleep and into the great beyond. They can be present but that may cause legal problems if they are investigated.

What was once just a theoretical conversation topic becomes frighteningly real. At the same time, André seems to be recovering and beginning to enjoy life again, particularly once he embarks on a bucket list of activities, including a mouthwatering visit to his favourite bistro and a clarinet recital by his young grandson. Despite the months of planning, might he quietly decide to forget the whole thing? By working their way through crisis, has this monied but deeply dysfunctional family found a better way to relate to each other? 

There are a few twists and switchbacks before the end. But much of the power of this film comes from its two central performances. Dussollier is thrilling but exhausting as André, a charismatic raconteur who you soon realise would be an absolute nightmare to have as a dad. Marceau – who callously bumped off her uptight oil tycoon father two decades ago as an unusually complex Bond baddie in The World Is Not Enough – has the less showy role but radiates intelligence and grit even as she bears the brunt of the emotional burden.

The briefest of flashbacks sketch in some of their complicated history, and while it is not essential to know that the film is based on a true story – director François Ozon has adapted his late collaborator Emmanuèle Bernheim’s memoir about her father with great care and considerable craft – it does add yet another layer of poignancy. Despite the sombre subject matter, there are wonderful moments of outré humour and even farce. Few films concerned with death end up so life-affirming. 

Everything Went Fine is in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from June 17. 

Graeme Virtue is a film and TV critic 

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