10 December 2022

Euthanasia story sidesteps ethical posturing for human experience

Sophie Marceau and André Dussollier in Everything Went Fine. Picture: Mandarin Production

By Tim Kroenert

30 May 2022

Medically assisted suicide is an issue that seems indelibly fraught. It’s an individual’s right to bodily autonomy, versus the sanctity of life. Arguments in favour of “dying with dignity” sit against what this phrase implies about the supposed indignity of being old, or of experiencing disability. Is euthanasia a step on the slippery slope towards eugenics? Or are we as a society sufficiently, ethically equipped to demarcate what’s acceptable from what’s not?

In Everything Went Fine French auteur François Ozon treats such quandaries as read. He sidesteps ethical debate to instead examine the legal and bureaucratic minutiae of a European family’s quest to fulfill a loved one’s desire to die. He explores the emotional burden of this, for those tasked with carrying out his wishes. “This is our story,” says Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) to her husband. It is not her life on the line, but it’s her experiences that are centred.

Emmanuèle is the adult daughter of André (André Dussollier), an 85-year-old art collector and former factory owner who as the film begins has suffered a stroke leaving him partially paralysed. Unwilling to continue living like this, he asks Emmanuèle to arrange for him to die. They have a tense relationship – he is shown in flashback to have been emotionally abusive to her as a child – but she loves him. Caught somewhere between these emotional poles, Emmanuèle agrees to his request.

She does her research. She consults a lawyer and the representative of a Swiss clinic where the procedure can be performed. A significant amount of box-ticking needs to be done, to make sure she and the clinic are legally protected, and to smooth the logistical aspects of André’s relocation.

Through it all Emmanuèle clings to hope that André might change his mind. She’s told by the clinic that sometimes, at the last moment, the patient declines to drink the fatal brew. André has emotional peaks and troughs that seem to confirm doctors’ insistence that his despondency is just a phase. Indeed, the date of André s death having been decided, he defers it so that he might see his grandson perform in a music recital. But quickly, a new date is set.

Everything Went Fine is based on a memoir by French writer Emmanuèle Bernheim, a former Ozon collaborator who herself died in 2017. Ozon’s script and Marceau’s performance pay nuanced, respectful tribute to this complicated and painful saga from Bernheim’s life. We feel, with Emmanuèle, the turns from hope to sad resignation and grief. We also feel the strong sense of daughterly duty to which she clings, whatever complicated feelings she might have towards her father.

Her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) provides willing support, but Emmanuèle is determined to see her duty through. She is determined to a fault – at one stage she is theatrically pained at having to repeat a difficult task she botched the first time, but when Pascale offers to do it for her, Emmanuèle immediately shuts her down. This is her story, after all. And, it’s a thoroughly compelling one, made all the more so by avoiding pat ethical posturing, focussing instead on basic human experience.

Screening at Cinema Nova

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