Cast & Crew
Jean-Luc Godard dissects the structure of society, movies, love and revolution. He asks compelling questions: Can love survive a relationship? Can ideology survive revolution? He also looks at the French student riots of the 1960s with a critical eye, and ends up satirizing contemporary views of history. A battery of thoughts complete with criticism of modern society and movies.
Tout Va Bien (1972) - Tout Va Bien
What's always saved Godard from self-immolation in his strained attempts at achieving a sort of naively-based Maoist cred is his virtuosity and light-handedness as a filmmaker. Tout va bien is tendentious enough to sink like a stone. That it doesn't altogether is due to Godard's way of rescuing himself from his weakness for rant with a redeeming sense of mischief. One of the reasons the film was hyped as Godard's return to film's mainstream fold was his hiring of two stars with box-office appeal - Jane Fonda, sporting the shag hairdo she brought straight from Klute (1971), and Yves Montand, the title-roleist of Costa-Gavras' anti-fascist Z (1969). They were as close as the Screen Actors Guild got to leftist royalty (although Godard and Gorin later scolded Fonda after her trip to Hanoi in a 1972 companion film called Letter to Jane). But that's another story. In Tout va bien, they permit her a feminist voice, and a degree of introspection that by no means came naturally to Godard with regard to his female characters.
Not that Montand and Fonda are characters here, exactly. Before we see them, we hear one of the voiceovers debating what the film - any film - should be. The voice points out that stars draw money. Fonda and Montand drew initial interest from Paramount, which cooled rapidly, one can only assume, when the studio heard what the film was about. Gaumont, however, came up with $250,000 -- a windfall compared to the pittances with which Godard and his colleagues filmed most of their political ruminations. One can't help smiling at one of the film's first sequences, in which we see checks being written in rapid succession thanks to the Gaumont largesse. Insofar as the star duo is seen, they are mostly characters in stasis. He plays a New Wave filmmaker who has sunk to making TV commercials. She plays a journalist, a radio reporter and correspondent who, she complains, feels she corresponds to nothing.
On assignment, she visits a sausage factory with him in tow, smiling cynically but passively, on the very day its workers stage a wildcat strike and imprison the boss in his office with the reporter and her escort. The workers' grievances aren't made entirely clear, but it's quite clear that the workers don't altogether trust their union officials, much less Communist Party honchos who also weigh in on the advisability and duration of the strike. In short, chaos reigns. Here Godard extricates himself not only by endowing these sequences with the feeling and timing and tone of farce, but by employing a nice piece of production design - a doll's house set, enabling us to see through the fourth wall of a warren of rooms and staircases in the factory. As the characters bounce off one another, stridently voicing slogans and grievances, with nobody listening to anybody else, we smile as the stage-blood-covered aprons and smocks of the workers trigger the old adage that sausage is one of those things the ingredients of which are best not scrutinized too closely.
Ditto, it soon follows, for revolutions, as Godard works in criticisms of the Paris student uprisings of 1968, driven by simpatico impulses but rudderless without being connected to a program. This, presumably, is where the Maoism comes in, but it's frankly too difficult to resist tuning out during the political diatribes. Godard has the characters deliver most of them right into the camera in the usual earnest misreading of Brechtian epic theater's alienation techniques. Succumbing to the usual gap between Brecht and his followers, this one fails, as so many do, to recognize that Brecht had the good sense to ignore his own dicta when dramatic necessity demanded it. (Remember the mute girl banging on the drum to warn the soldiers in Mother Courage?) Not Godard, though, puritanical bourgeois that he is at heart. And so Tout va bien commits the only sin of which a would-be work of art can be found guilty - it lapses into boredom.
Falling short of any real frisson of anarchy, which would have lit a fire of sorts under it, Tout va bien exchanges the energies of good old French boulevard farce for something raw and immediate only in the scenes between Fonda and Montand, as the characters whose love is being rent asunder by the growing alienation into which each has slid. Fonda, whose discontent is the more energized, gets rather the better of their rush to splitsville when she holds an 8x10 black and white photo of a penis in front of her enervated lover's face. Rarely has estrangement been so succinctly portrayed. If only Godard had trusted his impishness more and given in to his political case-making less, Tout va bien could have been more life-enhancingly buoyant (and truer to its anarchist impulses) and less dolorously draining. But tout is not so bien in Tout va bien.
Producer: Jean-Pierre Rassam
Director: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin
Cinematography: Armand Marco
Music: Paul Beuscher
Film Editing: Claudine Merlin, Kenout Peltier
Cast: Yves Montand (Him, Jacques), Jane Fonda (Her, Suzanne), Vittorio Caprioli (Factory Manager), Elizabeth Chauvin (Genevieve), Castel Casti (Geneviève), Éric Chartier (Lucien), Bugette, Yves Gabrieli (Léon), Pierre Oudrey (Frederic), Jean Pignol (Delegate).
by Jay Carr
Tout Va Bien (1972) - Tout Va Bien
Jean-Luc Godard's Tout Va Bien on DVD
Which is perhaps essential backstory to Tout Va Bien (1972), just released as a Criterion DVD. Coming out of his Dziga-Vertov period, Godard and associate Jean-Pierre Gorin (a former editor at Le Monde) wanted to put what they had learned "in the trenches" to a broader use, perhaps thinking they had exhausted small films shown primarily for sectarian use and hoping to catalyze the mainstream. They nearly announce as much in the opening of Tout Va Bien--right after the famous sequence of checks visibly written in close-up to pay for the various elements of the film--as a voice-over breaks down the elements of a proper, mass-appeal film. (Perhaps it's no coincidence that two years earlier Roland Barthes had published S/Z which similarly dissects a Balzac short story sentence-by-sentence into various codes of meaning.)
What the voice-over says is that viewers need a romance so Godard and Gorin are willing to oblige. A romance means a He (Yves Montand) and a She (Jane Fonda) and of course they don't live in a blank box so we see a quick review of possible settings, social backgrounds and hints of conflict, all of which would affect the final film. There are even a couple of sly references to earlier Godard work: Montand's description of a Remington commercial he¿s shooting sounds like the famous Bardot-on-a-bed opening of Contempt (1963) and Fonda as an American in Paris echoes Jean Seberg in Breathless. There's even one of the first appearances of the refilmed video that would come to dominate much of Godard's later work. (Gorin tends to be the receding figure of the team, partly because there's been so little other work by him to compare. Still, some reports indicate that he may have been dominant in their collaborations.)
Shortly this exploratory sequence solidifies into the main "story" of the film. Fonda as an American journalist and Montand as a French filmmaker try to report on a wildcat strike in a sausage factory. It's a glorious confusion where the manager is locked away in an office, the union representative struggles for control and the workers improvise as they go. Godard and Gorin didn't hesitate to feature stars in Tout Va Bien but then use them in quite un-star-like ways. Fonda, for instance, is often obscured by other characters, seen from the back or presented in long shot, at times almost literally foregrounding the idea that history is made by masses not great individuals. The manager and union representative both present their positions (and this is a film where people have positions) by directly addressing the camera. Perhaps even the choice of a sausage factory obliquely references the famous 19th century comment usually attributed to Bismarck that "Laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made." Or maybe Godard just liked the idea of butcher's garments easily identifying the workers; after all one of his famous gnomic quotes when an interviewer noted the amount of blood in Pierrot le fou (1965) was "Not blood, red.
But one of the most interesting aspects of Godard is that he's such a true lover of film that his artistic side could never be repressed by his political ambitions. Tout Va Bien offers ample proof. The images often have a crisp appeal rather than documentary bluntness. The actors tend to be playful even when delivering monologues. The slow lateral tracking shots that Godard had been using since at least 1967's Weekend create an almost hypnotic beauty. Easily the most memorable, though, is the elaborate, two-story set that shows the factory offices in one gigantic view as if the entire building was cut down the middle. In true Godardian fashion, the set is a blatant homage to Jerry Lewis' 1961 The Ladies Man (where it was a women's domitory; draw whatever conclusions you will from that).
This obsessive feel for film as film is why Tout Va Bien still works today. Godard was never much of a political thinker but he remains one of the most important figures for thinking about the politics of film, a mostly different topic. You won't learn surprising detail about the state of French workers and management in 1972 from Tout Va Bien, probably not even as much as you would get about Victorian workers from novelists like Dickens, Trollope and Eliot (just to stay with fictional work and leave aside the entire documentary question). But Tout Va Bien deals directly with the representation of people and what that might mean, how the delivery of information is itself a way of creating (not merely distorting) our understanding. It isn't a filmed essay or lecture, at least not entirely, so a viewer could approach it as an unusually told story much as Pulp Fiction or Rules of the Game can be appreciated without handling their philosophical aspects. But Tout Va Bien is firmly a part of Godard's life-long investigation of how we live in the endless sound and images that flood modern life.
As usual, Criterion has done a top-notch job with the DVD. The clean transfer reveals just how much Godard and Gorin cared about the way the film looked and perhaps surprisingly it still works on the smaller screen. The disc includes separate video interviews with the two directors and a booklet of essays by J. Hoberman, Kent Jones and Colin MacCabe. The most interesting bonus is the infamous but rarely seen Letter to Jane (1972). Running almost an hour, it features Godard and Gorin providing a voice-over analysis of a single photograph of Jane Fonda talking with Vietnamese peasants. The following decade, Paper Tiger TV would develop this technique more fruitfully but it's still an audacious move by Godard and Gorin even if something of a stunt and ill-mannered considering Fonda's commitment to their previous film. However much rudeness and abrupt breaks might have been in a French tradition from Robespierre and Saint-Just to Breton and Debord, this wasn't quite the type of revolution the world needed.
For more information about Tout Va Bien, visit Criterion Collection. To order Tout Va Bien, go to TCM Shopping.
by Lang Thompson
Jean-Luc Godard's Tout Va Bien on DVD
Released in United States 2001
Released in United States November 1972
Released in United States October 10, 1972
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Shown at New York Film Festival October 10, 1972.
Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.
Film was made by the Dziga-Vertov Group.
Released in United States 2001 (Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) November 9-19, 1972.)
Released in United States October 10, 1972 (Shown at New York Film Festival October 10, 1972.)