"Very Well, Thank You!": Everybody's Mad By France Hatron

in 11st Ankara Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by France Hatron

The Flying Broom Film Festival has special ambitions that are not only artistic, but also political. It wants to support the dialogue between women directors and to point out the problems they encounter when directing films. As cinema has a bigger impact than any other art form, films can be very powerful, even powerful enough to make the world change. But by not showing feminist points of view, just women’s views, most of the time politically engaged. Very Well, Thank You! (Très bien, merci!) by French director Emmanuelle Cuau falls perfectly within the scope of the festival programming.

The scene takes place in Paris, in the present day. Béatrice and Alex form a 40-year-old ordinary married couple with no children. She’s a cab driver and he’s a corporate accountant. Their life is ordinary and they seem happy with it. One day, Alex is asked by his boss to find a reason to dismiss an employee who is a friend of Alex’s. Poor Alex doesn’t realize that this injustice is the first step towards his own destruction, and his wife’s. As fate will have it, after work Alex witnesses an identity control in the street.

He watches the scene, passively, as a witness. Police officers ask him to move on. As he doesn’t, because he has the feeling he has the right to be there and to watch anything he wants, the police arrest him. He spends the night at the police station, in a cell, as if he were dangerous. When he regains his freedom in the morning, Alex asks to see the superintendent to complain about the treatment. He’s told that there’s no superintendent. How funny it is when he answers: “And you find that normal, a police station without a superintendent?” Next, the same thing happens when he asks for the toilet. He has to pee outside “because there is no toilet inside!” And then, the police have got something special in store for him: he’s going to meet a doctor, specifically, a psychiatrist in a hospital! He is shocked but still has not realized what’s happening to him: “I don’t understand how we can go from a police station to a hospital!”

Under pressure, his wife signs a confinement application without knowing what she is doing. Then, between drugs and sedatives the husband begins to go mad. How does one survive so much suffering? He manages to escape from the trap and leaves the psychiatric hospital but the harm is done, and the situation keeps getting worse and worse from then on. Even if the second part of the film lets us believe Alex has regained his freedom and is progressively getting better, appearances are deceptive!

In fact, Alex is fired from his job and starts preparing for job interviews in English. While these sequences are very funny, because they are realistic and full of humor, the director shows us how absurd the world of work can be. You have to show you are the best person for the job and take good care not to appear different. You have to hide your personality, anything that might make you look interesting, sensitive, emotional, or human in fact. Alex can’t find a job because of his confinement and can’t stand the situation, so he starts lying to Béatrice, making her believe that he is still going to job interviews.

As the doctors have persuaded him of his — imaginary — disease, he has lost his confidence and decides to become somebody else by changing his curriculum vitae completely. As truth never wins, he chooses to fib. An easy way to apply for a better job! His dreams come true. He is now the best but he’s lost his soul. Since he has been victimized, he starts manipulating people.

The tragic dimension of the story is perfectly conveyed by the touching acting that gains in intensity as the plot develops. The detachment of the actors, despite the tragedy of the situation, combined with the comical shooting perfectly highlights how absurd life can be. Alex and Béatrice are so upset that they just can’t react against authority. Gilbert Melki (Alex) was the perfect actor for the role. His physical appearance (dark-skinned) makes him look guilty. His expressive face, both naive and determined, and his acting (very restrained) gives his character a kind of quiet but wonderful power. As for Sandrine Kiberlain (Béatrice), her calm and gentleness make her the ideal wife in such a trial. Her husband might have committed suicide if she had not been able to stay calm and resigned. Her natural acting, her unsophisticated beauty, the softness of her voice and eyes confirm her huge talent.

Otherwise, the script is fully convincing. Emmanuelle Cuau puts the audience in quite a similar position of suffering to that of her characters. As she doesn’t judge any behavior absurd, she puts us in an uncomfortable position. We are like passive witnesses, accomplices of evil and our resignation cannot express itself. The characters, above all Alex, get caught up in the mesh of the French social organization. Considered as harmful, he has to escape because people won’t change. And to escape, he has to change himself. The story is both enthralling and frightening.

Although it is strong and moving, the film hasn’t been awarded a prize yet, maybe because it describes absurdity too well, without denouncing it. Which leaves us the choice to let it be or to denounce it. And while it is not easy to confess our own guilt, neither is it easy to accept the fact we live in a stupid and dangerous world that we support in many ways. Emmanuelle Cuau just depicts a situation in France, like the hero does, without sentimentalism or pity. A feat! Her film is very political, even if it is not didactic.