TOUT VA BIEN (Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard, 1972)

A stunning passage graces Tout va bien, a film that reflects on the shift to the hard political right in France following the failed Paris uprising, nationwide strikes and, a few months later, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, all in 1968. It is a set-piece so brilliant that viewers might be forgiven for forgetting that nearly all of the preceding 90 minutes likely bored them to tears.
     All’s not well: despite the lyric of the closing song, it is not sunny in Paris, as the accompanying sunless, gray tracking shot discloses with too-easy irony; despite the one terrific passage, this is easily one of Jean-Luc Godard’s worst movies. However, due to a nearly deadly motorcycle accident that sprung Godard into a coma for a month, Jean-Pierre Gorin directed nearly the whole film, including the outstanding scene in a supermarket, in Godard’s own style. Hardly has the film begun, moreover, and dialogue echoes dialogue in Le mépris (1963) and Pierrot le fou (1965)—but fittingly and pointedly, not extraneously.
     For the first time since 1968 a Godard film had stars. Yves Montand, wonderful, plays Jacques, a formerly Leftist filmmaker who since 1968 has directed only commercials. His partner, Suzanne, played (not so well) by Jane Fonda, is a radio journalist who is as disillusioned with her current work as Jacques is with his former activist work, and there are issues of inequity in their relationship that also confound her tranquility. By previous appointment, accompanied by Jacques, she visits at his administrative offices the manager of a factory who is currently being confined to an office by the striking workers who have put a halt to the factory. Vittorio Caprioli hilariously plays this “imprisoned” character, whom we see in a cutaway simultaneously showing the interiors of a number of offices. One of the strikers, somewhat famously, calls home to tell her husband to take care of the children in her absence!
     Despite rare sparks, scene after scene is deadly dull; and then the film comes to thrilling life in a supermarket, as a steadicam shot slowly moves back and forth across the lanes, including the checkout lanes, establishing a leisurely calm and observing the orderly activity of patrons until a small mob of unruly teens and twentysomethings—call them the Spirit of ’68—introduces an element of visual disorder and chaos. The chaos increasingly takes over the scene as the camera continues its slow, measured back-and-forth: a tense, explosive tug-of-war. Hauntingly, briefly, the hope of 1968 lives again—to taunt again with failure in the outdoor shot, accompanied by the song, that I’ve already described. Nothing commends this film like its leaving us, however Pompidou-bious this may seem.

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