A Superb Wildlife Documentary and a Touching French Family Drama

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Ecologist Kris Tompkins looks over an expanse of the Patagonian mountains she has helped form into national parkland in Chile. Photo: National Geographic Films

“Wild Life”

This superb new documentary traces one couple’s sustained commitment to preserving wild lands against the encroachment of urban growth. It follows Doug and Kris Tompkins ‒ both mountaineers and entrepreneurs ‒ to their creation of the largest privately protected swaths of nature on the planet. (93 minutes, rated PG-13 and now running in local cinemas.)

We know from the film’s beginning that Doug Tompkins died in late 2015 (the picture opens with his funeral), but, since he was a public personage for decades, there is plenty of archival interview and media material to show him as a striking presence and an articulate advocate for environmental views. Kris, still alive, is on screen much more, relating their backstories, common interests and tribulations and triumphs. She presides over the culmination of their dreams when Doug’s name graces national parks in Chile.

Tompkins combined a climbing passion with creating landmark outdoor fashion companies, including The North Face and Esprit. He was so thoroughly committed to mountain climbing, especially in the Chilean Andes, that he gave up his businesses to focus on purchasing land there to establish national parks. Simultaneously, his partner (and wife), Kris McDivitt, led a somewhat parallel life, with an interest in climbing and outdoors fashion. She pursued the latter until she became CEO of the environmentally conscious company Patagonia, though she left the firm in the early 1990s.

The Tompkins connection came together in the early 1990s, when both were single and available. Doug pursued Kris, and they truly clicked during a European sojourn. By then, they had decided to take on their life’s work: to purchase tracts of Patagonian land and convert them into a national nature preserve for the Chilean people.

Over 25 years, they carefully but doggedly extended their holdings ‒ with periodic and understandable pushback from skeptical Chilean authorities ‒ to establish a grand nature preserve of almost 2 million acres over several parcels. As part of their efforts, they also began “rewilding” their parklands by reintroducing species into areas where they had disappeared. At one point, Kris, feeling down perhaps, states that, despite their efforts, “on any scorecard, Nature is losing,” but she is doing her best to counter that.

The saga is told in fascinating detail by an esteemed team of climbing documentarians, Jimmy Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. The quality of their work is more than proven by their Oscar win in 2019 for “Free Solo” and their earlier films “Meru” and “The Rescue,” about the Thai soccer kids’ cave rescue in 2018. They have an eye for regal landscapes, vistas of terrain and skies that dazzle, and the ability to capture delicate details of stone and snow. They have exhibited a daredevil skill by filming close up and right in line with climbers doing their business (see “Free Solo”). “Wild Life” adds another pearl to their growing necklace of vivid documentaries.

“Everything Is Fine”

From French director François Ozon comes “Everything Is Fine” (Tout s’est bien passe), a powerful family drama in which a daughter is forced to reconcile with her father and their shared past after being presented with a devastating final wish. Parisian art collector Andre Bernheim (Andre Dussollier) is a gay man who had two daughters while married to Claude (Charlotte Rampling), but they are long estranged. He has also had a tempestuous long-term affair with Gerard, whom he has since spurned. The trigger to the plot happens in the movie’s first minute, when he suffers a debilitating stroke. (In French with subtitles, not rated, 113 minutes.)

From left: Sophie Marceau, Geraldine Pailhas and Andre Dussollier appear in “Everything Is Fine.” Photo: Cohen Media Group

His daughters, the elder Emmanuele, a writer (Sophie Marceau), and the younger, Pascale, a teacher (Geraldine Pailhas), rush to aid a man who has been a difficult father to them both, especially Emmanuele. (We see brief flashbacks of his indifference to her as a child.) After release to a new rehab hospital, Andre tells Emmanuèle that his future life is not worth living and asks her to help him “end it,” putting the onus on her to help him commit assisted suicide. Since the act is illegal in France, she and Pascale must struggle to grant this last wish.

With France not an option, the sisters look to Switzerland to find an institution to perform the procedure. Their facilitator, a sweet older woman, gets right down to business on the serious paperwork. (She is played by the great Hanna Schygulla, a one-time muse of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.)  Even with some wavering from Andre, the girls book a private ambulance for the journey to Bern. A last-minute kerfuffle (which plays out like a chase movie) almost botches the whole semi-secret plan. The French police are informed of the project, and the sisters are taken in for questioning.

Ozon, known for his varied films (“8 Women,” “Swimming Pool,” “Franz”) tackles this delicate subject with exceptional intelligence and understanding. Based on Emmanuele Bernheim’s 2021 fictional memoir, the script uses a plain, matter-of-fact style that renders its otherwise weighty ‒ and potentially maudlin ‒ topic more accessible and genial. It doesn’t make light of the moral arguments of euthanasia but instead focuses on the reckoning Emmanuele must make with an ornery father who needs help but refuses to accept it.

“Everything Is Fine” proceeds smartly, with a semi-restless camera that briskly moves its protagonists around Paris while still giving them their due in more dramatic and calmer moments. Ozon handles a solid and well-rounded cast with a sensitive touch, though he really excels in eliciting stunning performances from veterans Marceau and Dussollier.

Andre Dussollier is an icon of French cinema, having worked with almost all its major filmmakers for over 50 years. He has won the equivalent of the French Oscars (the Caesars) for Best Actor three over the years. Here he masters the tough role of a gruff, addled man of 85 sorting out the remainder of his life. Physically, too, he must take on the look of a stroke victim ‒ with sagging mouth and body ‒ and pulls it off splendidly.

Sophie Marceau has a resume almost as long as her co-star’s, having made almost 50 films since she starred as a teenager in 1980. She has mastered a myriad of roles and here takes absolute control of another as an injured daughter forced to confront a surly, ineffective father. She does it with grace and poise, while looking ever gorgeous.

Hill resident Mike Canning has written on movies for the Hill Rag since 1993 and is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association. He is the author of “Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, DC.” His reviews and writings on film can be found online at www.mikesflix.com.