Director: François Ozon (France, Belgium). Year of Release: 2021
A woman gets an urgent phone call. “I’ll be right there”, she says to the unseen person on the other end of the phone. At the top of the stairs, she can’t focus on how to get down. She returns back to her flat, puts in her contact lenses and tries again. It’s this attention to detail that may well split opinions of people watching the film. Putting in the contact lenses is an act of no particular importance to the plot, but it is platformed as if it were something Deeply Significant.
The woman, Emmanuèle rushes to the hospital, where her sister Pascale is already waiting at the bedside of their father. André has had a heart attack, but as he’s unconscious, Emmanuèle sends her sister away to keep an appointment. When André comes round, he has a special favour to ask. Can Emmanuèle help him with an assisted suicide? Pascale laughs when she hears of the request. After all, Emmanuèle has been yearning to get rid of her father for most of her life.
We see some flashbacks of Emmanuèle’s strained relationship with her father. Giving a tourist directions on the Metro reminds her of when her father scolded her for not being able to read a map while he was driving. But at least she’s in these scenes – Pascale is somewhere else entirely. Emmanuèle is obviously the favourite child, and at least this sort of attention is an acknowledgement that she’s really there.
Back in the present, Emmanuèle does her best to comply with her father’s wishes. Assisted suicide is illegal in France, but apparently there’s a clinic in Switzerland which can help if André’s daughters can get him over the border. The clinic will “help” rather than actually carry out the act, and the women need their own plausible deniability. This means that they’re not able to accompany their father, and need to align their responses when the police inevitably get involved.
This sounds like a plot that is both urgent and dramatically exciting, yet for most of the time we just get mired in bureaucracy and meetings with lawyers. André does not doubt his initial decision for one moment, even after he starts to recover. His intransigence is potentially interesting – why should he be forced to carry on when, as he says “surviving is not living”? But André’s lack doubt means that there is no real tension, at least among the major characters.
There are occasional walk on parts by people who disrupt this stability – a former (male) lover of André, a cousin who’d moved to the US and who believes that giving up and life is an insult to the victims of the Holocaust (André is Jewish, although he clearly no friend of God), André’s male nurses who are both, as they say round here, “people with migration background”, and whose religious convictions makes them more sceptical about André’s actions than he is himself.
But these people are rolled on for occasional small set pieces and don’t really have much impact on the direction in which the plot is inexorably driving us. There is a problem with Alles ist gut gegangen which starts with it’s title. There’s no real jeopardy, no worrying that things might not turn out according to plan. Everything always goes just fine.
When André hears that he needs to pay €10,000 to go to a Swiss clinic, he just hands over the money. “How do the poor manage?”, he asks Emmanuèle. “They wait to die”. she replies. Yet this is a film which doesn’t seem to care much about the fate of the poor. This is a shame, as you get the feeling that a film about someone who doesn’t have André’s choices would contain so much more dramatic tension.
I do sometimes rail against films because they’re about the upper middle class or even the upper class, and I sometimes worry that I’m not being fair. Of course it’s unjust that there are not enough films about people like Uz, of course my whole idea of the possibility of film changed radically when I first saw films like Kes and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. But Hamlet and Macbeth are hardly set on housing estates, are they?
The fact that a film is about the rich does not necessarily make it less dramatic. Not necessarily, but in this case, I think it does. André’s ability to buy his way out of at least some of his problems makes the film less interesting. Yes, he has his problems, yes his life has become barely liveable, but the constant fawning of head waiters in his presence makes it much more difficult to feel much sympathy.
Alles ist gut gegangen is not a bad film. It’s well acted, and it’s not afraid to address serious issues. But it’s not an exciting film, and here I mean more than the notable lack of car chases. Having raised some Big Issues it seems remarkably uncurious about the questions that ensue. It invites us to discuss significant questions about Life and Death and then turns out to have not much of an opinion about any of it.