Tout Va Bien Review
Lamenting the failure of the May 1968 Paris riots to bring about any significant change in society and increasingly bored by the cultural imperialism of filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard decided to keep the revolutionary spirit alive by taking it into a reconstituted form of cinema. Believing that cinema was dead, at least in its current form as narrative storytelling, Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin formed the Dziga-Vertov group to make a series of propaganda films that they believed would put forward socialist messages and confront the important political issues of the day. Many of the films from this period of Godard’s work remain unfinished, while others are either mostly unseen or, heavy with narration in Marxist-Leninist and Maoist jargon, are just simply unwatchable.
Ever ready to take on new challenges and find new means of communicating these subjects and ideas, in Tout Va Bien Godard enlisted the support of a couple of star names – Jane Fonda and Yves Montand – using both them and the nature of the cinematic medium, to put across his post-revolutionary message. Godard makes no bones about his technique here. If it takes a couple of star names and a fabricated love story to get those filmmaking cheques signed, that’s what Godard does and he admirably and amusingly exposes those intentions with playful frankness in the opening scenes of the film.
In the same way, Godard strips the filmmaking medium of any adornment or pretence that it is anything more than a framework manufactured to look at the post-May 1968 situation from a May 1972 viewpoint. Dissecting the society into terms of country and town, bourgeois and non-bourgeois, male and female, politicians and - well, politicians, Godard places Him (Montand), Jacques, a director of advertising films, and Her (Fonda), Susan, a journalist for the American Broadcasting System, into a social context that still shows evidence of conflict and turmoil.
The situation chosen to represent the class struggle is a dispute at a food processing factory, where the workers have revolted against the management, the foremen and the union, and taken the owner hostage. Godard tries to get across all the different viewpoints, deconstructing the situation and giving each of the parties their say in the matter – the boss, the union, the workers, even the reporters, each of them speaking directly to the camera. Much like he did in La Chinoise, but perhaps not quite as successfully here, Godard enlivens these rather tedious passages of ideological direct-to-the-camera speech deliveries with some farcical incidents where the owner is forced to run around the factory to find somewhere to pee, and the French Communist Party can be found on sale at reduced price in a supermarket – situations that resemble something out of a Jacques Tati film or a Monty Python sketch.
As ever with Godard, much of this is hit and miss and a great deal depends on the individual viewer’s response to the richness of imagery, its context and what meaning they derive from it, but the manner in which the director communicates his ideas and stretches the capabilities of the film medium are never less than fascinating. Like the director, both Jacques and Susan are disillusioned with the nature of their work; Him, once a bigshot filmmaker during the Nouvelle Vague, now reduced to making commercials while searching for a new way of communicating something meaningful; Her, a broadcaster, prevented from reporting the events that she feels are important, and unhappy about the way she expresses herself. Frustrated in their attempts to report on the sad state of the world four years after May 1968, Godard takes more “direct” action, and brings the revolution to the screen again in another of his striking set-pieces including a long tracking-shot finale of a riot in a supermarket.
The struggle continues, but Godard has set his sights on new targets and taken it into a new arena, by-passing conventional forms of media and communication and using a new form of cinema as a means of educating the masses. Depending on your own individual reaction towards Godard and his political stance, it’s either an act of hubris or incredible ambition. And while there are certainly flaws in any such attempt to expand the language of cinema in this way – and there’s certainly a lot of didacticism and tedium here – the benefits accrued are not so easy to dismiss.
Tout Va Bien is released in the UK by Arrow. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
Arrow give Tout Va Bien as good a transfer for the film as you could hope for. The original 1.66:1 aspect ratio is retained and is presented anamorphically. The image is almost perfect, with no flaws other than those probably inherent in the original Eastmancolour filmstock. Hence, there is a little bit of grain visible, a slight flicker occasionally visible and colour tones tending towards pastel shades. As such, the transfer of the otherwise clear, sharp image is excellent, with no noticeable marks or scratches of any kind.
Godard films from this period tend to have a rather rough and ready sound mix, but even that is not an issue on Tout Va Bien’s Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix, which is clear throughout, with no evident analogue hiss or background noise.
English subtitles are provided in a strong white font and are pleasingly optional. I don’t envy anyone subtitling a Godard film, with its overlapping dialogues, narrations and screen captions, full of ambiguities and wordplays, but Tout Va Bien is translated rather well, and copes admirably with these issues, even moving up to the top of the screen when necessary, so as not to obscure information at the bottom. Strangely then, only the final screen doesn’t seem accurate, translated as “This is an account for those who don’t have one”, when “story” would seem to be the better translation for “conte” rather than “account”. The only irritating issue I have with the subtitles is their timing, consistently appearing on the screen at least a full second before the lines are delivered. I don’t think however that anyone will find these minor issues particularly troublesome.
There are no extra features on the DVD.
Tout Va Bien is certainly one of Godard’s more watchable films from his militant Marxist-Leninist period and although rather dragging in places, it is enlivened with the director’s customary brilliance and originality in his striving to communicate something meaningful in a new way. Such a rich and difficult film would certainly benefit from some complementary extra features, but Arrow’s release is barebones. The Criterion Collection edition will give you much a much more complete package, but with an equally fine transfer the UK Arrow edition is at least a fine alternative for those who just want to see the film.