Tout va Bien

"Grim"

Tout va Bien Review


Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin were interested in leftist, specifically Maoist, political theory at the time they filmed Tout va Bien (which translates to All's Well, a possibly ambivalent reference to activists being marched away by police at the end of the film). The film starts off amusingly, narrated by two voices (presumably supposed to be the filmmakers) who want to make a "political" film but don't seem to have any particular ideas in mind -- except that for monetary reasons the film needs to have "stars." So Yves Montand and Jane Fonda are injected into the story (dream casting, since both were stars who were also leftists). Montand plays Jacques, a former filmmaker who now shoots slick commercials to pay the bills; Fonda is Suzanne, an unsuccessful journalist.

All too quickly, though, the film goes straight into politics, as Jacques and Suzanne go to interview the manager of a sausage plant and are locked in with him by activists who call a strike. Here the film gets very talky, but also credibly presents the activists' concerns as they wonder what settlement the union will seek with the management. There are some effective sequences in which the strikers complain to Suzanne about working conditions in the plant, and Godard's technical skill (and interesting use of a cutaway set of the factory) makes even this preachy part watchable for a while.

But Maoism is not the answer to any problem (and one of the activists admits that he is not sure what Maoism is). So the strike is probably futile, though Godard/Gorin get bored with the strike before it's over and turn the camera elsewhere -- which is the real problem with this film and European art films in general: their attention span is too short to actually develop any ideas. French cinema suffers especially when contrasted with the best American films of the mid-century, which were usually much more effective at sustaining an idea, good or bad. (Of course, film critics at the time pretended the opposite, and regarded even the slightest French films as superior to the best American pictures.)

Radicalism transforms art and aspiration into mush, and radicalism came to Europe long before it became mainstream in the U.S. in the early 1970s (Tout va Bien is a souvenir from that moment in time). Radical theory is not really intellectual -- it is posturing, unserious rhetoric pretending to be intellectual. But plenty of self-identified "intellectuals" don't seem to know the difference, including Godard (perhaps) and certainly most of his contemporaries in European film.

While the political commentary in Tout va Bien is fairly sharp by Continental standards, the film succumbs to the worst conventions of seventies filmmaking when Jacques and Suzanne have a vapid rap session about their relationship. The two characters seem made for each other, actually. Both of them see greater meaning in their lives than obviously exists, merely because they continued to live in France and breathe oxygen following the student riots of May 1968. This is the kind of conceited cluelessness that fortunately keeps radicals from accomplishing much except for cultural pollution, which I'm afraid Tout va Bien is just an example of. Unless Godard and Gorin are subtly making fun of the characters, which is probably giving them too much credit. However, Godard was (and is) a clever devil, so it's hard to be sure.

The Criterion DVD release also includes a subsequent Godard/Gorin collaboration, the short film Letter to Jane, which rants at Fonda for posing with the Vietcong. Fonda's ill-advised defense of the North Vietnamese government is still shocking in retrospect, but it's not clear why Godard and Gorin were so bothered by it.

Aka Tout va B!en.



Tout va Bien

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Friday 16th February 1973

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Lui, Jacques, as Elle, Susanne, as Factory Manager, as Genevieve, Castel Casti as Geneviève, Éric Chartier as Lucien, Yves Gabrielli as Léon, as Leftist woman


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