The One about Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s “Tout Va Bien”

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May 1968, France’s economy was shut down.  The largest general strike in an advanced industrial country, 11 million workers were on strike for two weeks and student protests ran rampant.  It was a blow to President Charles de Gaulle’s government and groups revolted against modern consumer and technical society.

1972.  Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard ala the man who was instrumental for Nouvelle Vague was no more.  The era from the late ’60s to early ’70s was the filmmaker’s “radical” years.  His interest in Maoist Ideology led to his partnership with Jean-Pierre Gorin and together they formed the socialist-idealist Dziga-Vertov Cinema group (named after Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov) and both would go on to create political films and from 1968-1973, the two would create five films showcasing their Maoist beliefs and one prominent film from that era of Godard’s career was “Tout va Bien” starring Yves Montand, Jane Fonda and Vittorio Caprioli.

“Tout va Bien” (Everything’s Fine) was the final major film to be created by Godard and Gorin.  The film revolves around a filmmaker named Jacques  (played by Yves Montand) and his wife/radio host/reporter named Suzanne (played by Jane Fonda).  Jane Fonda is not enjoying her relationship with her Marxist ideological husband and vice versa.

One day, they go to a sausage factory and immediately there is a revolt.  The employees at the factory have had enough of the mistreatment and are now all on strike.  For Jacques and Suzanne, both are held inside the factory for two days straight.

We then watch the deconstruction of what is going on at the factory via a Marxist style courtesy of Godard as we hear the employees, the union and the management giving their reasoning of why they are striking and what they perceive is happening.  The manager (played by Vittorio Caprioli) just wants to get home for a dinner party and doesn’t mind negotiating with the employees but because of their actions, he will not bow down to them.  The union members are angered because the employees went on strike and are doing things on their own and the employees are sick and tired of their mistreatment and seeing their wages docked for things such as going to the bathroom.

Although the film is quite political in its message, especially with the class struggle and Brechtian via it’s Marxist style, it is quite interesting to see how things play out and how the employees are seen almost like an ant farm via the cinematography of the factory set courtesy of cinematographer Armand Marco.

Hidden under several layers of the film is a love story or probably a story of the lack of understanding between the characters of Jacques and Suzanne.  Despite the film having big names, the film is mostly about what is taking place between the employees, the striking individuals who are sick of it all and bringing it to the big screen.

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I’m going to tell you right now…If you have never watched a Jean-Luc Godard film, do not start with this film.  “Tout va Bien” is possibly the most radical film I have seen come from the Criterion Collection and to appreciate this film, you need to go along with the journey of knowing Godard’s previous films.  Seeing how this filmmaker changed from “Breathless” up to “Weekend” and then seeing how the turbulent times had changed Godard.

From what transpired in France in May 1968, the Algerian War to the Vietnam War, those French New Wave years were over and this Maoist Ideological version of Godard is what the late ’60s and ’70s is what had become of the man.

Godard mentioned in an interview that what you learn from “Tout va Bien” depends on your background and your condition of life.  I have to agree.  To see how the three social forces are shown in this film, from listening to the management, the employees, the union (CP), the leftist and those who look at their lives and it was Godard and Gorin’s way to sum up of what transpired in France in the last few years.  Gorin said this is a film about France in 1968 and 1972 and thus the film goes into the tribulations felt from the people and the attack on capital consumerism.  In fact, the final scenes in a supermarket was chaos but enjoyable chaos onscreen of an incident that took place.

One can start watching this film and thinking a dying love story between Yves Montand and Jane Fonda but these characters are merely just a backdrop to the events that transpire.  They are also the star power needed to get the money to fund the film.

“Tout va Bien” is definitely not Godard’s most accessible film and in fact, it was a critical and theatrical failure.  And even Jane Fonda’s star power wasn’t going to help because since 1970, she became more of a political activist even helping in the FTA Tour (F*ck the Army) to show her opposition to the Vietnam War and in the biggest shock to people worldwide, Fonda visiting Hanoi in July 1972 and sure enough, North Vietnam released pictures with her with them and eventually used for propaganda.

I enjoyed “Tout va Bien” because of my fascination with Godard’s work.  He was a man who walked the beat of his own drum and he was deeply unsatisfied with the way cinema was going and thus he did what he can to bring his view of the world into his films.  Where “Made in U.S.A.” definitely showed more of a side of his philosophy, “Tout va Bien” is Godard fully consumed by the world around him and using the film as a way to get his message across to a worldwide audience.

caution those not familiar with Godard’s work to not watch this film until you get a good grasp of his work because then you can actually feel the fascination of how this filmmaker changed.  But this story shows relevance to many people today.  From the employee who feels they are being taken advantage of by their boss, to the couple who feel their life is just a routine and there is no love left.

I dare not want to call this a love story but there is a love story within this radical film.  Come into this film with an open mind, a good amount of sleep and soak it all in.  And eventually, you can appreciate what Godard and Gorin were trying to accomplish.


 

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Dennis A. Amith