Written and Directed by Maren Ade
Starring: Birgit Minichmayr, Lars Eidinger, Nicole Marischka, Hans-Jochen Wagner
Run Time: 119 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, Maren Ade’s second feature film is a painstakingly observed and painfully incisive portrait of a young German couple whose seemingly passionate union gets sorely tested while on holiday in Sardinia.
In their early thirties and newly in love, Gitti and Chris seem crazy about each other; they are constantly in either pre- or post-coital states of embrace in which Gitti has her lithe yet sturdy legs wrapped around Chris’s lanky torso. They loll around the pool of Chris’s parents’ summer house, and have conversations in the secret language of lovers engaging in the age-old rituals of sexual play.
But in the hands of the intelligent Ms. Ade, who also wrote the script, the film gives subtle clues from the beginning that there could be trouble in Eden. Gitti acts like a girl from the other side of the tracks; she’s frank to the point of being just a wee bit offensive, and she’s so emotionally transparent that at times she comes across as too needy, too insecure. Chris, on the other hand, is more even-keeled, and more emotionally opaque, as befits a well-bred member of the German bourgeoisie. But underneath that brown study of stoic calm lies a whopping dose of self-doubt; at times Chris, too, seems full of need and insecurities. The two are in love, yes, but are they really suited for each other? And what is love, anyway? Does it really presuppose endurance?
Thoughts of another relationship re-examined against the starkly beautiful Italian landscape and under the bright Mediterranean sun, Rosselini’s Voyage in Italy, come to mind as we observe these two pale Nordic specimens grapple with their respective identities mirrored in the other’s eyes. The two manage pretty well to keep the seeds of discord from sprouting, but their fragile union can’t endure the heat when real trouble finally arrives in the form of another German couple they meet on the island, the husband a longtime professional rival of Chris’s, and his wife a successful fashion designer who is pregnant with their first child. The sudden presence of this seemingly well-balanced couple is like a mirror held up for Gitti, who can no longer avoid the clear reflection of her own fears that she and Chris are not good for each other; or worse, that Chris is not the man she wants him to be. There’s nothing worse in life than the bursting of that romantic bubble, as all true romantics know so well.
The question of love and its cohort, compatibility, is at the heart of Everyone Else. Unlike most films on the subject, however, Everyone Else refuses to be romantic about the subject of romance. In every frame, the swell of the bosom is evenly counterbalanced by the questioning of its validity. And every ounce of cynicism is redressed by the desire to believe that love will triumph. That’s what is so wonderful about this movie. It keeps both the romantics and the cynics in their seats, engaged and perplexed at the same time.
Does Gitti and Chris’s relationship survive the litmus test of their Sardinia vacation? It’s hard to tell, but their youth does make it seem as though anything were possible, even happy endings. If this couple under the scrutiny of Maren Ade’s microscope were older by a decade or two, maybe the outcome would be different, sadder in its tone of reconciliation. But youth does have a way about it, and when Gitti touches Chris’s forlorn face, even the elders among us must feel some relief.
As anyone who has ever sat on a marriage therapist’s couch well knows, however, discord has a way of festering. Everyone Else reminds us of how it all starts. Maren Ade’s brilliant sophomore effort should be placed alongside Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage, or Tom Noonan’s The Wife for its piercing and intelligent examination of a relationship hovering in the netherworld between commitment and dissolution. And in a moment of true suspension, she leaves it up to the viewer to ascertain just where, and how, the chips will eventually fall.