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The Criterion Collection presents
Tout va bien (1972)

"I'm an American correspondent in France who no longer corresponds to anything." 
- Susan (Jane Fonda)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 03, 2005

Stars: Yves Montand, Jane Fonda, Vittorio Caprioli
Director: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:35m:57s
Release Date: February 15, 2005
UPC: 037429178126
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-B+B B

DVD Review

Jean-Luc Godard has always displayed a rapacious intelligence and a fierce commitment to forging new cinematic ground; Tout va bien isn't his best work, but it is full of inventiveness and dissonance, while being as overtly a political film as you'll ever see. In truth, if you're not up on the political climate in France in the late 1960s and early 1970s (and I am not), frequently as you watch this you may wish you could reach for the Monarch Notes; context is everything, and without it, it's easy to get lost. But there's still plenty of food for thought, both in the self-reflexive quality of the film and in its scathing critique of consumer culture.

Godard here collaborates with Jean-Pierre Gorin, and they're clearly not much interested in character; the two leads are most frequently referred to only as She and He. That didn't stop them from attracting movie stars, though; Jane Fonda and Yves Montand star—She (a.k.a. Susan) is a radio journalist covering French politics, while He (a.k.a. Jacques) is a has-been nouvelle vague filmmaker paying the bills by shooting TV commercials. They fight in two languages, and every now and again hash out the problems in their relationship, not unlike the central couple in Godard's Contempt, but that's really a minor concern of this movie. Proletarian discontent informs every aspect of the film; propagandists holler their pamphleteering slogans directly into the camera, and in fact breaking the fourth wall is a signature stylistic element of the film. The first half revolves around Susan's trip to a sausage-making factory, with Jacques tagging along; the workers are on an impromptu wildcat strike, and are holding the manager of the factory hostage. The manager, the journalist and the filmmaker are pinned in his office in an inferno that would do Sartre proud; their de facto prison guards are the line workers in their blood-soaked aprons.

The most memorable set piece of the second half is an elaborate dolly shot in an epic supermarket; the camera rolls past register after register with carts full of canned goods, junk food, prefabricated, nutritionless meals; in the background, a gaggle of Communists try to hawk their book, but they're not looking for converts, but for sales. The market eventually erupts into a free-for-all, with the goods looted, the customers running riot, the employees not giving a damn; it's the last gasp against the dehumanization of our food supply, and is only a modest and ephemeral success against the rising tide of corporate profits and marketing.

Or that's the point, presumably—but there's so much Brechtian distancing from the material that it's hard to have any kind of emotional reaction to this movie. Montand gives a brief apologia to the camera about why he's doing cut-rate work; is this a jokey version of Godard himself? A cut at Truffaut? It's not clear, but mostly you get the sense that the filmmakers are content to toy with an idea for a while, and then just move on. That kind of restlessness has a certain amount of intellectual allure, without a doubt; but it's not the kind of thing that's going to endear you to your audience, especially when they're getting the feeling that you're just throwing stuff against the wall, and want to see what sticks. Godard's jottings are surely more interesting than most, though, and you're in for ninety minutes of them here.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: A good sharp transfer; the colors have dulled down some with the years, but the print here looks fairly crisp.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: Odd things happen with Fonda especially: when she speaks in English, her dialogue is twinned with a French dubbing track and supplemented by English subtitles, making for an odd, multisensory semi-assault, which was probably the idea. Solid effort on the transfer of the mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet, with essays and interviews (see below)
  2. color bars
Extras Review: Talk about biting the hand that feeds you: the most notable extra here is Godard and Gorin's Letter to Jane (52m:22s), also produced in 1972, and directed to their leading lady, Jane Fonda. They take a widely seen photograph of Fonda visiting Vietnam, and use it as their launching point for calling her out on her political dilettantism. This is a very snide and unkind exercise; it brims with self-justification and is informed by the overwhelming sense of how smart these guys think they are. If you agree about their infinite genius, you may love this; the rest of us are sure to find it tiresome.

Godard is full of piss and vinegar in a 1972 interview (07m:04s)—he's in his bathrobe, talking about political filmmaking, and giving a lot of inside baseball on French politics. A 2004 interview (27m:01s) with Gorin delves into his background and how he came to work with Godard; the decades have made him only slightly more reflective about these turbulent times, and he's still got a hair trigger of a temper, it seems.

The accompanying booklet has much useful information, too: an essay on the feature by J. Hoberman; another by Kent Jones, on both Tout va bien and Letter to Jane; context from film historian Colin MacCabe; and transcripts from a 1973 series of interviews with the filmmakers conducted by Robert Phillip Kolker.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Bone up on the details of May 1968 if you hope to make any sense of this movie; but if you're content to be baffled by its politics, you'll find that it brims with the self-conscious energy of the last crest of the New Wave, and features some extras that provide both context and insight into the peculiarly self-annihilating character of the filmmakers.

 


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