Tout Va Bien: The Criterion Collection
Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers (2004) is a testament to the changing ways of France in 1968, with its cineaste main characters split on their involvement in the (believed to be) coming revolution. While two of the three main characters find themselves sucked into the swirling chaos of the May '68 demonstrations (perhaps to their death, but surely at the expense of their love of cinema), the lead is unable to participate and finds himself lost, but not confused about their involvement. He senses with all the hindsight author Gilbert Adair and Bertolucci impart in him that the wanted revolution will eventually be squelched, and their efforts will all be for naught. As much as this is a reflection of both authors experience and the time, The Dreamers is also a backhanded poison-pen letter to the director who found himself most enraptured with radical politics at the expense of cinema, Jean-Luc Godard. Godard began his career balancing his political and social interests with a great sense of moviemaking, and he was able to maintain it brilliantly through a series of films from 1959-67. But after the events of 1968, Godard mostly gave up the Coca Cola in favor of Marx and began his involvement with the Dziga Vertov group. Working often with collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin, he made documentary essays on political situations in foreign countries, which were screened mostly for like-minded intellectuals and very few others. Godard's theatrical work was nonexistent through much of the '70s, when he experimented with video and socio-political works. Do-directed with Gorin, Tout Va Bien (1972) is the director's one message in a bottle for the decade.
Tout Va Bien ("All's Well," or as it's translated in the film "Everything's All Right") begins with title cards announcing France 1968 and France 1972, shows someone writing checks for the feature film, and then offers a voiceover conversation in which the audience is told "If you use stars, people will give you money." It then introduces Yves Montand ("Him") and Jane Fonda ("Her" or Suzanne) both famous, and famous lefties as they engage in a lover's spat. He's a director who was once a member of the New Wave and now directs commercials; she's an American correspondent who finds herself more interested in those seeking social change, especially when both are kept hostage in the middle of a sausage factory strike. Their story concerns the couple's growing disillusionment with each other, but as is made clear from the opening, this is the padding to get at the heart of the story about the changes that occurred in France. The strike sequence allows for the most direct expression, as Fonda, Montand, and the factories boss experience what it's like to be wearing the workers shoes, and allowing the striking workers the chance to address the camera with their concerns. For Montand, his interest in it quickly evaporates, but he doesn't know how to enact change and has settled for impotent complacency, while Fonda finds herself in the middle of a supermarket riot filmed in a single shot as the camera laterally tracks back and forth.
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Upon release, Tout Va Bien was a commercial and critical disaster, and more than likely condemned as agitprop from the New Wave's prodigal son. But three decades of distance provides both interest and curiosity value. Reveling in Brechtian discourse, the movie has no answers nor posits them and only offers a reflection on traumatic times and the intellectual's inability to feel useful in them (a feeling that couldn't be more contemporary). It's a challenging piece, with occasional flourishes of the snarkiness and sensibilities one expects from Godard. But it's hard to know how to credit authorship Gorin publicly took credit for inserting the opening sequence's quotation of Godard's Contempt, while Godard himself had suffered a motorcycle accident prior to filming. Fonda and Montand's arguments parallel those in Contempt; is this Godard considering the same questions from before, or is Gorin trying to make the film Godardian? Real or Memorex? Whatever the case, after 1968 Godard could no longer be the Godard that was expected of him, and though the film makes it explicit that both Fonda and Montand are in the picture to get it a wider distribution, this sense of whoredom also applies to Godard. Tout Va Bien seems stuck in an (albeit fascinating) paradox of wanting to say something but knowing that the very act of making the film has destroyed whatever effect it might have had Godard is too conscious of the limitations of cinematic proselytizing. The film is a testament to Godard's decision to step back from making movies for the mainstream, and it exists as his letter of resignation, away from the public's eye, at least for the decade.
The Criterion Collection presents Tout Va Bien in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and in its original monaural soundtrack (DD 1.0). As to be expected from Criterion, the transfer is stunning. Extras include the 52-min. documentary essay "Letter to Jane," which serves as a commentary on the film itself. In fact, it may be impossible to see the feature again without thinking of "Jane," which offers an analysis of a famous picture of Jane Fonda in Vietnam, one that Godard & Gorin use to both bash Fonda and explain Tout Va Bien. Also included is a 1972 interview excerpt with Jean-Luc Godard discussing the film (in his bathrobe, no less) from the French documentary La Politique el le bonheurn Georges Kiejman, and a 2004 interview with Jean-Pierre Morin (27 min.), in which he talks about making of the movie and his work with Godard in the Dziga Vertov group. Keep-case.