Every Thing Will Be Fine
As the male lead in Wim Wenders’ Every Thing Will Be Fine (Out of Competition) James Franco plays Tomas: a dedicated professional with commitment issues. Film aficionados might remember another Tomás: Daniel Day Lewis’ lead character in Philip Kaufman’s 1988 version of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being playing... a dedicated professional with commitment issues.
The iteration (and if it’s not intentional, then the consequences of using such an unusual name for a Canadian protagonist might have been considered), does neither Franco nor Wenders any favours. Temporarily AWOL is Wenders’ grandly intimate view of the human condition presented so memorably in films such as The Wings of Desire, Pina, The American Friend, The State of Things, Paris, Texas – and in his nomination for this year’s Best Documentary Oscar The Salt of the Earth, which we loved. In its place? The tale of writer Tomás, haunted by his accidental involvement in the death of a child, his subsequent spiral into depression, followed by artistic renewal and emotional healing. In that somewhat unimaginative order.
A filmmaker of Wenders’ stature doesn’t take issues such as artistic distance and emotional responsibility lightly and the director’s good intentions at least are evident in his use of snow-bound Canadian landscapes that mark the opening scenes: here Tomás struggles with his own emotional frigidity and inability to fulfill the wishes of long-term partner Sara (McAdams). But then, in three awkward, “two plus 2 x four-years-later” jumps, we see him relocating to the city, to a new life and a new partner Ann (Croze). Unsurprisingly, she’s just as frustrated with his continued detachment as the mother (Gainsbourg) and brother of the initial victim, with whom he maintains occasional contact. Will he ever connect?
Tomás' failure to engage translates only too realistically to the screen: although the script has weaknesses exacerbated by Gainsbourg’s sur-spiritualized rendition of the grieving mother, some of the fault lies also with Franco, whose attempts at depth manifest themselves in overtly measured diction and a kind of lumbering lassitude in which his otherwise ubiquitous smile becomes an almost welcome albeit arbitrary ray of levity. In terms of strategy, it’s not unlike those employed in Franco’s two other Berlinale films (I am Michael and Queen of the Desert) and is not helped by what feels like well-mannered but over-indulgent directorial restraint from old master Wenders conflating lethargy with gravitas – a confusion only deepened by his use of 3D. Effects should service content, as they did in Pina. With the last shot of Franco looming into viewer space with something approaching satisfaction, this doubting Tomas could turn into a surprisingly heavy weight.
Every Thing Will Be Fine screens Feb 13, 21.30 (Haus der Berliner Festspiele)