Tout Va Bien (Everything’s Going Fine) is a film made by art house auteur film director Jean-Luc Goddard in 1972. This followed his roughly four year absence from mainstream commercial cinema. In the wake of events in the Paris of 1968 (a period of protest, civil unrest, mass strikes and acute changes in social consciousness) Goddard entered what film historians consider his radical, or militant, period of film making. Already established as the spearhead of the Nouvelle Vague, an existentialist approach to film making which deconstructed the established order of mainstream Hollywood cinema, following 1968 Goddard made attempts to escape the cult of personality that came to exist around him, to this regard putting into practice notions of a communal approach to film making. Tout Va Bien is the fruit of Goddard’s collaboration with radical left wing intellectual Jean-Pierre Gorin. Goddard and Gorin also collaborated on the documentary Letter to Jane (1972), included as an extra on this Arrow release, narrated in a back-and-forth style by both Godard and Gorin, the film serves as a 52-minute cinematic essay that deconstructs a single news photograph of Jane Fonda in Vietnam.
Tout Va Bien centres on a workers strike at a sausage factory, which is witnessed by American news reporter Susan Dewitt (Jane Fonda) and her French husband Jacques (Yves Montand), once a major film maker of French New Wave cinema, but now supporting himself by directing adverts. Susan has come to interview the owner of the factory (Vittorio Capriolli), and Jacques has tagged along. Whilst present at the factory the workers stage a strike, or even a miniature revolution, holding the manager, Susan and her husband hostage. What follows is a series of dialogues and monologues involving the various strata of the workforce; from factory manager, to union representative, to the more radical anarchist factions of the workforce who view the union as another strand of the established order. Actors in the film employ techniques associated with the radical theatre of Berlocht Brecht, distancing themselves from the artifice of the film, stepping back to place emphasis on how the film is staged and on the broader dynamic of how the films is made. An example of this in the film is where the camera will zoom back to expose the overall set design of a cross sectioned building, perhaps suggesting where characters are affiliated within the hierarchy and in relationship to ownership of the means of production. Actors also speak directly to the camera to engage the audience in the political discussion.
The film has other layers, through the character of Susan, considering the role of the media in reporting political events, and in the role of Jacques considering the role of film maker in terms of making a product of moral or political integrity whilst also delivering something that is commercially viable. The opening to the film lists the requirements for funding a film, often the names of high profile actors being the starting point to get funding for a film to be made. To some extent these points are laboured, and may well not be the preference for a viewer seeking mystery and escape through film watching. The film may offer sound advice to any would be film maker, in considering the dynamics and make up of the industry and what is actually required to make a film.
Within the film there is a further layer of considering how human relationships exist and evolve within in a capitalist society, once again by looking at the relationship of Susan and Jacques, how their relationship functions on a practical level, but also how it replicates the notion of what a relationship should be as imposed by the dominant narrative of society, it’s norms, and the fictions it creates in order to consolidate this narrative. At one telling point in the film Jacques is considering the trajectory of his own career, he turns to face the camera and in his monologue he says ’we lived through the month of May together, it seems silly and romantic, but it was great’. May being the May of 1968, and now four years later the idealism is to some extent dissolved in the necessities of surviving and making a living in a capitalist society, but there is still the spirit to seek romance, social justice, equality and liberty on some level.
Tout Va Bien is a film that is effective in raising questions and debates. There is an aesthetic within this, a way of making film which encourages consideration and participation from the audience. This is an approach already established by Goddard in earlier films, but perhaps going a stage further, especially by enlisting a Hollywood star such as Jane Fonda. I found this film a good example of how consumer society can be exposed through the act of watching a film. In some ways it reminded me of the film Dawn of the Dead (1978) directed by George A. Romero, although Romero would have no doubt denied his film was in any way intended as a critique of mainstream consumer society.
The Arrow Academy release includes several extras including the documentary Letter to Jane (1972), an interview with Jean-Pierre Gorin from 2004, and footage of Goddard from the set of the film.
Tout Va Bien is released on Dual Format on 28th August 2017