Everybody is fine in Every Thing Will Be Fine. This is a title that lives up to its expectations. They’re all fine . . . just fine: Actors, cinematographer, production designer, sound mixer, editor, writer . . . filmmaker. And it would be all relatively okay were this not a Wim Wenders’ movie. It’s been a long time since Wenders filmed a worthy fiction — and it seems that a longer time will have to elapse after his latest feature, which is as flat as its title. Fine is not okay because we know he can do so much better.
Yes, I’m already hearing those voices telling me, confronting me for being such a hypocritical ass. “How come that you’re saying this kind of things after your passionate defense of Woody Allen’s mediocre movies? Didn’t you say that we were in no position as viewers to ask an artist to do better?” And probably you’re right: I’m somewhat hypocritical seen that way. But let me explain myself. You can make up your mind as to whether I’m rationalizing my preferences or I’m giving sound, sensible statements for my rather self-defeating stance.
As I explained before, making mediocre movies is a modus operandi for Allen through which he crafts, slowly but steadily, outstanding works — sometimes even masterworks. This is his artistic method. A forgettable film in Allen’s case is but a means to an end, a necessary antecedent for whichever great film you’ve ever seen from him.
This is not, at all, Wenders’ case. With the exception of his beginnings (and almost everyone’s productive at the beginning — should one have the means), Wenders has always taken his time before grabbing a camera to tell whichever story that catches his eye. To this enterprise he usually devotes all his energies and, unlike Allen, he’s used to expect a great film in the end (Woody, on the other hand, would not even say that his masterpieces are great movies — okay at the very most). And, as we all know, the results of Wenders’ latest fictions have fluctuated between average and flat. With “latest,” by the way, I mean since 1992, when he filmed “Until the End of the World.” Since then, he has had some gleams of brilliance (i.e., “Lisbon Story” or his last collaboration with Sam Shepard in “Don’t Come Knocking”), but the end product has never reached the potential we all know there is inside them.
Every Thing Will Be Fine suffers mainly because it is a story full of potential — waves of life ebb and flow within its arcs . . . till they disappear in the horizon to the uninterested gaze of everyone involved. The film tries to redeem the fatality of fate through the power of forgiveness and acceptance, but does neither as it drifts, daunted, rifting its story’s heart by throwing it inside a cerebral fortress no one ever wants to trespass. In the end, no one’s interested.
The same applies to its protagonist, Tomas Eldan (James Franco, “127 Hours”), a struggling novelist striving with writer’s block. He spends his days on a tiny fishing shack at the outskirts of his hometown in Quebec while arguing through his phone with his girlfriend, Sara (Rachel McAdams, “A Most Wanted Man”), and feeling sorry for himself. This latter activity sees an unexpected boost as he runs over a child during a brutal blizzard. The child dies and his older brother isn’t hit by a jiffy — who Tomas mistakenly takes as the almost-fatal-victim and walks him home, where their mother, Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Melancholia”), devours a Faulkner’s novel that has captured her attention (unlike ours) and fails to notice the sun has set while her children played. This tragic event will create a bond between Tomas, Kate and Christopher (Robert Naylor, “Immortals”), the surviving child, that will span for more than ten years of healing harms of grief and forgiving fortuitous grievances. But the truth is that, although each will try to heal their wounds differently, we’re hardly interested in what happens to this bond forged in trauma after the end of the first month . . . act — as all arcs are afterwards abandoned.
Franco’s best accomplishment with his portrayal of the whiny novelist is that he shows he can be cast on adult roles, and he can keep himself up to that, however dyspeptic and ultimately uninteresting. Being a selfish prick, nonetheless, does align to all stereotypes the actor has erected upon himself. Gainsbourg, on the other hand, is as good as she ever is, but, once again, we see her suffering, grieving, battling with wounds willing to worsen. It’d be good to see, just for fun, whether she can remember what is like to portray a satisfied, empowered woman — but this is peccata minuta. As often attested, she’s extraordinary in what she does in skillful, passionate hands (i.e., collaborating with Lars von Trier). Here, though the hands don’t lack skill, they have no interest whatsoever on what they’re crafting.
One can only wonder what happened to the directors of the “New German School,” once immense artists and now bigger bores — when it comes to fiction. Of course, the greatest of the three great filmmakers of this generation, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, worked himself to death and thus became the lonesome legend of a little litter that never saw his decay. The other two have seen better times. Having said that, it should be observed that Werner Herzog accepted his destiny after a couple of flops and dedicated to non-fiction, directing in the last three decades many of the most spellbinding documentaries we’ve seen to date and defining a whole new way of tackling the genre. Wenders, perhaps the most technically gifted of the three, decided to divide his time between fiction and non-fiction. Lately, it is in the latter category where he has produced his best work. Long are the days when poetry spurted from his camera, long are the days of “Alice in the Cities,” “Paris, Texas” or “Wings of Desire.” We don’t know what happened; all we know is that they all seem to have lost their ear for fiction.
Of course, the director’s technical talent often translates into lightening lyricism. That might be the reason why the only person with whom he seemed to work till the end was his cinematographer, Benoît Debie, as between both pulled out breathtakingly beautiful scenes. Yet, although Wenders can still create remarkable shots, with exchanges of objective and subjective perspectives that still surprise us when one of the characters breaks into the other’s frame or overshoulders that suddenly morph into complex two-shots, all these come across as capricious. This is the case, for instance, with the excessive use of cranes to rubricate almost every scene before it inevitably falls into yet another fade. This is definitely the case with his use of 3D. Depleted with prescient intelligence in his resplendent “Pina,” this time the tiring technology adds few to the image — not to mention to the narrative at large. It seems as though it were intended to add depth of field and ended up framing a dead field. When the only tri-dimensional item in your product stems from a pair of purple piece of isinglass, then you know you’re dealing with quite a flat material.
Perhaps the greatest flaw of Every Thing Will Be Fine is that the German maestro seems to lose steam as the movie progresses — he seems to esteem less and less his characters as they take decisions, or fail to do so. And he leaves them wandering, aimlessly. Whether he ever esteemed his characters is as debatable as it is irrelevant — it’s pointless to ask about something you have no interest to learn . . . and it is the viewer’s interest what this film cannot grab. Ever.
In Wenders’ abandoning hands, a promising story of an emerging fatherhood and a shattered motherhood results in a fine specimen of yet another overstylized visual gimmick. If there is a fate we feel sorry for in this movie, it is the story’s, tragic indeed — a casualty of its own boredom.