Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin
Italy / France, 1972
Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 22 February 2005
Source The Criterion Collection DVD
In 1967, Jean-Luc Godard capped off nearly a decade of nonstop productivity with the release of Week End, an incendiary piece of filmmaking that easily matched the best of his earlier work. In between the scenes of car crashes, cannibals, and impassioned political monologues, a curious inter-title continued to flash on the screen, trumpeting “the end of cinema.” As it turned out, this statement wasn’t entirely misleading. For much of the moviegoing public, Godard’s output came to halt then and there, even if the man himself never stopped working. While Breathless and Week End have become film school staples and Band of Outsiders and Vivre sa vie have enjoyed recent successful revivals, the films made by Godard post-1967 remain largely untouched by critics and audiences alike.
For a brief moment in time, it seemed Tout va bien would be an exception to this rule. It boasted major stars (Jane Fonda and Yves Montand), almost gained the backing of a Hollywood studio (Paramount), and was being promoted as a return to form for Godard, who had spent the previous five years making movies within a Marxist film collective known as the Dziga Vertov Group. Godard and the group’s co-founder, Jean-Pierre Gorin, had both been heavily involved in the events of May 1968, and were interested in surveying the changes in the cultural and political landscape in the four years since that date. As it turned out, the two men weren’t quite ready to jump back into the world of commercial filmmaking, and as a result Tout va bien was largely greeted by a mixture of bafflement and indifference.
Viewed thirty-three years later, it is difficult to imagine either reaction. While not Godard’s best film, it nevertheless remains a crucial part of his oeuvre, bridging together his earlier works with his later ones. His obsession with Brecht comes full circle, with a prolonged section of the film featuring the Yves Montand character sitting against a black backdrop and reciting passages from the playwright’s “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre (Notes to the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny),” and while his political concerns remain prominent, they are addressed in a more sensitive manner.
The film also displays a strong self-consciousness on the directors’ part as to the compromises made in their return to “mainstream” filmmaking. Tout va Bien opens with an offscreen exchange between a male and female about the elements of making a movie. After a few seconds, we are given an extreme close up of a hand writing a series of checks, including one for international movie stars, for, as the female voice points out, “if we hire stars, we’ll get money.”
The movie is ostensibly concerned with the relationship between Montand’s He, an aging Nouvelle Vague director who has turned to making television commercials, and Jane Fonda’s She, an American broadcast journalist, but its larger preoccupation is with the role intellectuals should play in post-1968 society. At one point, the couple is locked inside a sausage factory during a strike, and forced to listen to the complaints of the workers, both male and female. Although Letter to Jane, the short film that is often seen as a companion piece to Tout va bien, arguably represents an all-time low in Godard’s uneven track record of depicting women onscreen, Tout va bien is widely viewed as one of his least problematic in feminist terms. While his early films often portrayed women as callous and/or opaque, in Tout va bien they are allowed a voice to redress their grievances. That he and Gorin give both Fonda’s bourgeois journalist as well as the working-class women prolonged monologues is also something of a breakthrough.
Although Tout va bien is not without its moments of electricity, it lacks the antic energy that marked some of Godard’s earlier films. This is not, however, a bad thing—what we get instead is a portrait of an artist at the brink of a more reflective stage of his career.