Everyone Else
aka Alle Anderen
Reviewed in August 2010 / Click Here to Comment
Top Ten List: #1 of 2009 (world premieres)
Director: Maren Ade. Cast: Lars Eidinger, Birgit Minichmayr, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Nicole Marischka, Mira Partecke, Atef Vogel, Carina N. Wiese, Paula Hartmann. Screenplay: Maren Ade.
Twitter Capsule: The pouts, dodges, and agitations of coupledom, shot, edited, and played as intimately as a second skin. Remarkable.

Photo © 2009 Komplizen Film, © 2010 The Cinema Guild
Everyone Else is as nuanced, as gripping, and as utterly believable a relationship drama as I had heard that it was, brought to life by two actors who have clearly parsed the complex, ambivalent psychologies of their characters to the finest possible edge—and yet, somehow show up on screen looking casual, spontaneous, and physically at ease with each other in a way that movies almost never show you. Despite this uncanny facility for reading and predicting each other's bodies, their emotional agitations with each other are a driving concern of the film, especially as it continues. Nonetheless, what Everyone Else is selling lands miraculously far from the hyperbolic sturm und drang you might expect. Maren Ade's sophisticated, incisive storytelling relies not on screaming matches but on the leads' marvelous attunement to each other, the ways in which they snag on the barest flickers of intimated feeling in each other's performances. Both the actors and the characters clock each other completely, and our 360-degree intimacy with both of them, which stops short of feeling intrusive or exploitative, is such that we learn to interpret them both with a precision that rivals their uncomfortably full perceptions of each other.

This doesn't mean they can't still surprise each other on occasion, though it's usually not a good occasion. We see how Chris (Lars Eidinger) is slowly playing possum with his own relationship, goading Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), his girlfriend of several years, with his charismatic passivity and impulse toward introversion. You can see how these qualities are both attractive and maddening, and you can't fault Gitti for thinking that Chris is surreptitiously prodding her to cool off in her feelings toward him. But Gitti doesn't really do "cool." She expects human relations to be volatile and imperfect, as she knows herself to be. As though to prove her point, she has a habit of behaving abrasively to provoke a reaction, especially but not exclusively in relation to Chris, and in the full knowledge that these cycles of flamboyance and apology only make people more apprehensive about her. When she tries to stop herself, it's worse. A second-hour dinner party that Gitti and Chris throw for two not-quite-friends requires Gitti to perform her domesticity more or less obediently, and we cringe at how obviously surprised the guests are that she can cook a meal, be pleasant (if somewhat aloofly), let bygones be bygones. But Chris, either because he's less interested in Gitti when she's behaving or because he's cruelly intent on provoking her to embarrass herself, cannot handle her docility, which makes for a sequence that echoes Mabel Longhetti's impossible test of being not too crazy but not too "normal" at the end of A Woman under the Influence, but without automatically aping that jagged, rough-looking Cassavetes style. Everyone Else finds rawness in truth in a casually handsome visual register and a storytelling register that's comfortable for the arthouse, though not without its eccentric flourishes, literary motifs (windows, birds), and heightened moments of crisis.

The whole beauty of Everyone Else is that it's not nearly as schematic as some of my broad strokes of description may have implied. Even the full-scale swapping of personas that the lead characters undergo in the bizarre but resonant finale seems not like a screenwriter's trick but like a plausible outgrowth of a drama that has accumulated countless layers, comic asides, frustrated cul-de-sacs, dilated intervals, and sudden accelerations. I can't remember the last time I came into contact with such a Holy Grail of lifelike characterization, basically consistent but accommodating florid departures of action and tone, on both of their parts. Everyone Else is so finely etched and persuasively structured that you buy into the drama completely, from Chris and Gitti's shared chuckles over inside jokes to the affectionate, childish ways they cajole each other in private to the obdurate frequency with which they disappoint each other—he seemingly won't be the kind of partner she wants, and she possibly can't be the sort of partner he wants. (Again, though, it's more complicated that.) Chris's withholding of key information about a possible professional lead, one which we know he hasn't secured long before he admits this to her, accrues a level of quiet but potent narrative suspense that, for me, roundly eclipsed the comparably protracted spectacle of that van careening off the bridge in Inception.

Everyone Else brims with gorgeously directed supporting performances, too, and it smartly devises to have the entire story play out in domestic environments that aren't Chris and Gitti's. They're housesitting at his parents' place, so they're on and off home turf the whole time, physically, romantically, and psychologically. The complete impression that the movie makes is galvanizing and subtly audacious, but the individual scenes are, if anything, even more detailed and piquant. The color scheme is much less bold and the lighting and rhythms more natural than in Dover Kosashvili's Late Marriage, but that film came to mind as a parallel case of a straightforward narrative made sharper, funnier, and more wounding by the occasional intensification of tone or incident. Everyone Else begins with a self-contained prologue that could have been folded into the body of the narrative but achieves an eerier resonance this way; an important character pulls a knife at one point, in a way that should strain credibility, but both the character and the movie have already established an appetite for the occasional outsized flourish.

Maybe Everyone Else never quite sheds an impression of working familiar themes, but the execution is so astoundingly well-calibrated that the vague familiarity and sense of self-enclosure don't hamper the film. I know a lot of people can't imagine wanting to watch a couple sort for two hours through the baggage they've amassed, but if my public eavesdropping is remotely to be trusted, these sorts of emotional travails are just about the only things people feel motivated to over-read anymore. (Well, that and Dragon Tattoo.) So if we all can relate, and we all cumulatively spend hours of our lives grasping at alternate versions of basically the same straws, wishing we could get some critical distance of why we're doing what we're doing—or why he's doing what he's doing, or why she's doing what she's doing, etc.—then why do movies like Everyone Else go under-watched? In this case, you owe it to yourself to race toward your first opportunity to watch these two people feeling frustrated and stuck. Grade: A–

VOR: (4)   (What is this?)
Everyone Else is important not just for the bracing splash of recognition it seems likely to provide to anyone who has ever felt attached to but ambivalent about a partner, or anyone who has ever fought with a lover, or anyone who has ever made up with a lover, or anyone who has watched a partner scrupulously or felt oneself watched while spending time with another couple, or anyone who has ever asked, from within a relationship of any sort, "Where could we possibly go from here?" The unbelabored meticulousness of the movie's portraiture is a major recommendation, but I think its risk and value inhere even more in how the movie dignifies a basically happy but increasingly rocky bond between two people as an ample focus for a two-hour film. No high concepts, no incongruous gravitations toward genre, no Dogme-style reliance on ascetic production values to convey stripped-down emotional states. Filmmakers and audiences ought to be reminded that what goes on between two people who know each other well—maybe too well, maybe not well enough—can absolutely form the basis of a gangbusters, surgically detailed, formally deliberate film.

Berlin Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize (tie); Best Actress (Minichmayr)

Permalink Home 2010 ABC Blog E-Mail