| 13.1°C Belfast

Francois Ozon: ‘If you don’t have money, you have to wait for death’

The French film-maker on his new movie Everything Went Fine, a witty and moving exploration of the moral maze of euthanasia. By Paul Whitington

Close

Personal: Sophie Marceau, Géraldine Pailhas and André Dussollier in Everything Went Fine. Photo by Carole Bethuel / Mandarin Production Foz

Personal: Sophie Marceau, Géraldine Pailhas and André Dussollier in Everything Went Fine. Photo by Carole Bethuel / Mandarin Production Foz

Director Francois Ozon. Credit: WireImage

Director Francois Ozon. Credit: WireImage

WireImage

Francois Ozon, Sophie Marceau and Andre Dussollier. Credit: Corbis via Getty Images

Francois Ozon, Sophie Marceau and Andre Dussollier. Credit: Corbis via Getty Images

Corbis via Getty Images

/

Personal: Sophie Marceau, Géraldine Pailhas and André Dussollier in Everything Went Fine. Photo by Carole Bethuel / Mandarin Production Foz

What would you do if your father asked you to help him die? This is the fraught ethical dilemma posed by Everything Went Fine, François Ozon’s witty and powerful drama based on a true story and novel by Emmanuèle Bernheim. Sophie Marceau is Manue, a Parisian writer whose contemplative existence is rudely interrupted when she finds out her father, André (André Dussollier) has had a stroke.

It’s a serious one, which has affected his face and speech. When Manue visits him in hospital, his spirits are low. A man of means, and an art collector, André is accustomed to the finer things in life, and now feels he faces a diminished and humiliating future of sheltered living and constant care. He doesn’t care for this idea one bit, and asks Manue if she will help him travel to a clinic in Switzerland where medically assisted suicide is legal.

Devastated by this proposal, Manue and her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) have some big decisions to make, and the ensuing drama exposes their complex relationships with both André and their emotionally distant mother, Claude (Charlotte Rampling).

All of which might sound thoroughly miserable, but in fact Everything Went Fine is oddly life-affirming, held together by a brilliant performance from veteran French actor Dussollier. His character may be a selfish, catty monomaniac, but he’s very funny, says it like it is and is oddly hard not to like.

This was, though, a film that François Ozon didn’t want to make at first. “Emmanuèle Bernheim, who wrote the book, was a good friend of mine,” he tells me. “We worked together a long time ago on my films Under the Sand and Swimming Pool, and after that we became very close, and one day she told me she’d just finished a new book, and asked if I wanted to read it.

“It was Everything Went Fine, her story with her father, and I loved it. She told me that some directors were interested in adapting it, but she wanted me to do it.

“I was very flattered, and I was sure it would make a great film, but the book was so personal, so intimate, and I told her that at that stage of my life, I wouldn’t be able to do her story justice. So she went with another director, Alain Cavalier, and he was supposed to play the father, but then Emmanuèle got cancer, and she died before shooting began.” Bernheim died in 2017 at 61.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

“I was very sad after her death so I decided to reread the book, and I thought maybe this was the moment to adapt it. I had some grief in my own life too, so I felt more able to make the adaptation, and in a sense too, it was a way for me to still work with her.”

Since announcing his talent in style in the mid-1990s with a series of taboo-busting short films, Ozon has become one of France’s most respected and prolific writer/directors. He moves freely between styles and genres, and his credits include pastiche comedies like Potiche, musicals (8 Women), erotic thrillers (Swimming Pool), weighty dramas (The Refuge) and his conspiracy thriller By the Grace of God, based on clerical sexual abuse in the Bordeaux diocese.

Everything Went Fine, though, represented a challenge of a different sort, a drama with the starkest of subtexts set in confined spaces and in which an actress (Marceau) would play the director’s late friend. It was tough, surely?

“Well, yes, it was emotional at times, but we had a lot of fun making this,” he says. There were challenges, though.

“The first day we started shooting was the first day of our lockdown, so we had to wait three months, and we were not sure if we’d ever be able to do it because the whole drama happens in hospitals and we didn’t have permission because of Covid — it was a nightmare. But then during the summer we had a break in the lockdown and we had time to shoot, so we shot very fast — it was less than two months — and everybody was ready for it.”

At the centre of it all is Dussollier’s remarkable portrayal of André, the coddled, selfish father who decides he wants to die. Even though his character is afflicted by a severe stroke, Dussollier manages with great subtlety to convey André’s slyness, wit and essential solipsism.

“It was not easy for him at all,” Ozon says, “because he doesn’t move throughout the film, he’s always the invalid. But at the same time he loved to be in the bed with all these beautiful women around him, so we had a lot of fun. And he really enjoyed the fact that because his character was sick, he had the opportunity to say very mean things to people. He told me it was such a pleasure to say to Sophie Marceau, ‘You were so ugly as a child.’”

There’s an almost saintly quality to the way the sisters put up with André’s constant complaints and bend to his wishes, and in a series of brief flashbacks we get a sense of what it must have been like to have such a sarcastic, belittling parent.

“Oh, he is awful,” says Ozon, “and even at the end, he doesn’t say thank you to them. But very often people who are selfish live better, because they don’t care about other people, or worry about them at all and so for them, everything is simpler. It’s bad morality, but for him everything was perfect, he had exactly what he wanted. But so difficult for his children to deal with.

“I think that the big paradox of André is that he wants to die because he loves life, actually; and because he can no longer have the life he wants, he decides to die. And that allowed us to have a bit of fun, I think, and not to make a morbid movie.”

Halfway through, André’s health begins to improve. His appetite returns, and he insists on being taken to his favourite Parisian restaurant for a lavish dinner.

“That scene at the restaurant was very important, because it was the favourite place of the real André, Emmanuèle Bernheim’s father. We shot in the real place, and I asked the waiter, Thierry, to play in the film, and he said to me, ‘I’m sorry, I already made a film with Isabelle Huppert, it was a nightmare, so I don’t want to make any films any more’. He’s famous, he’s the most famous waiter in Paris.”

In the film, as André rallies, his daughters dare to hope that he has changed his mind, and decided to embrace whatever life remains to him.

“When you speak to doctors about this, it’s often what happens. When people know they have a date, and that they know they can die if they want, very often the symptoms disappear and they get better, and actually maybe only 15% of people go on to choose death.

“And we’ve seen in Belgium that there has been no big spike in deaths simply because assisted suicide is allowed. In the end, and given the choice, lots of people decide not to do it.”

In France, François tells me, the law is quite clear on assisted suicide — it is, officially, not allowed under any circumstance.

“Yes, the law is clear but in France we are lucky, we are not an island, so we can go to Switzerland, we can go to Belgium, and I think we can go to Spain too.

“But what I realised, working on this project, is that you need money for this, so it’s only something for rich people.

“If you don’t have money, you have to wait for death, as Manue says in the film. That was something important, and I wanted to show that for André, money is not a problem, so for them it’s just a question of law.”

Before he started production on Everything Went Fine, Ozon stated he had ‘no opinion on this subject’.

“Because when you are not informed of the situation, it’s difficult to say whether you’re for or against. But one thing I realised while shooting the film was how heavy a burden it must have been for Emmanuèle and her sister to organise everything, and for their father to ask them to do it was really a terrible thing. And for me, it was hard not to draw a link between Emmanuèle’s cancer afterwards, and what she had had to do for her father. It must have been so hard for her.

“So now I have an opinion. I think people have to be free to choose what they want. I think we need some laws, some very strict laws, which will help people to decide, and that it’s for science and medicine to organise all that.

“Obviously, it would all have to be very carefully regulated, and definitely it should not be left to children to organise it all for their parents. But France is a Catholic country, and that complicates things.”

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


Top Videos



Privacy