Tout va bien [DVD]
Director : Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin
Screenplay : Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1972
Stars : Yves Montand (Him), Jane Fonda (Her, Suzanne), Vittorio Caprioli (Factory Manager), Elizabeth Chauvin (Genevieve), Castel Casti (Geneviève), Éric Chartier (Lucien), Yves Gabrielli (Léon), Pierre Oudrey (Frederic), Jean Pignol (Delegate)
Tout va bien is a sometimes high-minded, sometimes parodic, but always intriguing look at the class struggle in France in the four years since the pivotal events of May 1968. Its cowriters/codirectors, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, were founding members of the Dziga Vertov film collective, whose purpose was to experiment and discover ways not to make political films, but to make films politically.
That may sound like a meaningless distinction, but there is a difference. Political films cannot be anything but; their very subject matter and mode of production guarantee that they will be political, and they usually take an obvious side, which results in two hours of “preaching to the choir” (a good recent example would be Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11). Making a film politically, on the other hand, presupposes that the material itself is not necessarily political in nature (although, clearly in the case of Tout va bien, it is). More important, though, is that the film is made in such a way that it promotes dialogue and challenges its viewers, regardless of their political stripes. Tout va bien certainly has its didactic moments, but the very fact that some have read the film as a parody is evidence of its ideological complexity.
Godard was already a cinematic legend by the time of Tout va bien. One of the influential pioneers of the French New Wave, his films throughout the 1960s had challenged and subverted virtually every aesthetic and ideological assumption about mainstream filmmaking. After May 1968, he entered a new phase in his career, one in which he wanted to rewrite the political potential of the cinema. To do so meant shaking off his auteur status, thus invoking Leftist collective politics in his own work. He teamed with Gorin, a student activist, and began making experimental films. Tout va bien was, in a sense, the culmination of this experimentation, in which Godard and Gorin attempted to apply theory to practice by making a viable commercial film politically.
While Tout va bien is more commercial than most of Godard’s work, and infinitely more commercial than the experimental works he and Gorin had produced in the previous four years, it is by no means mainstream. Its ideas, however, are easily accessible, perhaps too accessible, which is why some critics now want to label it as parody.
In Tout va bien, Godard and Gorin attempt to connect relationships with politics, much as Godard had connected relationships and art in Contempt (1963). The main characters are a husband and wife. The wife (Jane Fonda) is an American radio correspondent living in Paris, and the husband (Yves Montand) is a former New Wave film director who now makes commercials. Godard and Gorin self-reflexively reference the presence of these two movie stars right off the bat, as an offscreen voice notes that movie stars are needed to get funding for movies as the camera shows us check after check being torn off for all the jobs that go into making a film -- costumes, cinematography, editing, etc. Thus, Tout va bien is as much a film about filmmaking as it is about politics and relationships. This is also reflected in the film’s rigidly formal approach and its self-conscious use of cinematic techniques, particularly in one of last scenes in which the camera tracks for nearly 10 unedited minutes behind the cash registers of an enormous Wal-Mart-like grocery story while a consumerist-undercutting riot slowly develops.
In the first part of the film, Fonda and Montand’s characters get caught up in an indefinite wildcat strike at a sausage factory, where (ironically) she is there to do an interview on management techniques. Godard and Gorin playfully stage the strike on a cutaway set that allows us to see different rooms in the factory simultaneously, like a giant dollhouse. This segment is also intercut with Brechtian direct monologues, in which different characters representing different political stripes are given long, uninterrupted takes to explain their ideological standing. Thus, the filmmakers are able to present us with the spectrum of political thought, from the manager of the factory (representing the capitalist Right), to the head of the workers’ union who disapproves of the strike (representing the complacent Left), to the worker who instigated the strike and fans its flames (representing the unsettled, radical Left).
This event understandably affects Fonda and Montand’s characters, both in their political views and their understanding of their own relationship (which intertwines the two). Fonda’s character realizes the futility of her job (during a taping, she keeps messing up and finally attributes her failure to the material itself -- “It’s crap,” she says), while Montand’s character has to face up to the fact that he is not the dedicated Leftist that he thought he was. The sense of coming out from behind a façade -- which is what both of these characters do -- is then reflected in their realization that their relationship is a dud.
Godard and Gorin have said that the underlying question in Tout va bien is “What is the intellectual’s role in radical Leftist politics?” This is something they were both struggling with personally, as the New Left was attempting to humanize politics by dispensing with esoteric Marxist theory and focus on practices that made a concrete difference. They wanted to find a way to use film in a similar manner -- to makes films that made a difference. After all, what is the point in philosophizing about the class struggle if you never get your hands dirty? This question is self-reflexively addressed in part by the casting of Fonda and Montand, both well-known movie stars who were publicly associated with Leftist politics. Fonda, in particular, was in the spotlight for her views on the Vietnam War, which were cemented several months after Tout va bien was completed (but prior to its U.S. debut) when she gave her infamous addresses to the North Vietnamese government.
Unfortunately, Tout va bien did not go over well with either audiences or critics. It was either too mainstream or too radical or a little of both in the wrong places. Viewed today, it is an infinitely fascinating work, although the charges of obviousness bordering on parody are understandable (particularly given the clear irony of its title, which translates to “Everything’s all right”). Political films in the late 1960s and early 1970s were all too common, which is why Godard and Gorin’s desire to make films politically, rather than political films, was such a radical step. However one views it -- as straightforward political filmmaking or sly parody or a bit of both -- it is nevertheless an important film of its time, one that has a great deal to say about art, relationships, and social power struggles.
|Tout va bien Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 15, 2005|
|Tout va bien has long been hard to find on video in the U.S., and for its DVD debut, Criterion has given it a sharp new anamorphic widescreen transfer, taken from the 35mm interpositive. The MTI Digital Restoration System was further used to clean up the film, resulting in a nearly flawless picture. As this was one of Godard’s more “mainstream” films, it has a sleeker look than his more experimental work. Colors are bold and pop off the screen, and detail level is good throughout.|
|The original French monaural soundtrack, transferred from a 35mm magnetic track and also digitally restored, sounds good.|
|The real coup here is the inclusion of Letter to Jane, Godard and Gorin’s 1972 “companion” film to Tout va bien. A film-school staple for years, but virtually impossible to find on video outside of specialty mail-order houses, Letter to Jane is 50 minutes of hard-core semiotic analysis of a single photography of Jane Fonda in Vietnam that will bore some and thrill others. The simple fact that it is included on this disc should send Godard fans into fits of ecstasy. |
Other supplements on the disc include roughly 8 minutes of excerpts from an interview with Jean-Luc Godard that were originally part of a 1972 documentary. Godard, is unshaven, with ratty hair, and wearing a red bathrobe, looking much different from the hip, sleek look we associate with his early years. He talks rapidly and passionately about his views on politics and filmmaking. Another supplement is a substantially longer interview with his collaborator, Jean-Pierre Gorin, which was filmed exclusively for this DVD in 2004. Gorin offers even more context for the film, as he discusses his involved with Godard and the formation of Dziga Vertov group.
Lastly, there is a thick insert book containing essays by J. Hoberman, Kent Jones, and Godard biographer Colin MacCabe, as well as an excerpted 1972 interview with Godard and Gorin.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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