Billy Gray

Everyone Else

In Movie Reviews on May 5, 2010 at 3:01 pm

The German tourist, that perennial sandals-and-socks-wearing butt of jokes, often sticks out like a sore thumb. But a stark white, very German couple sturming and dranging during a vacation on the lazy sun-soaked Sardinian coast in Maren Ade’s Everyone Else is exceptionally incongruous. Unfortunately for Chris (Lars Eidinger) and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), la dolce vita does little to mellow their fractious but convincing, and maybe inevitable, romance.

Chris is an architect, the only one who his mentor Hans (Han-Jochen Wagner) has ever called a genius. But his formally flawless designs are often deemed “too complicated” and seldom built. He feels like a failure, and is at the age where he’s not sure he can make up for it. (His bald spot, practically blinding when shot from above, says it all.)

Gitti is a perilously free spirit, devoid of professional woes given that her job entails booking flights for rock bands. Chris gently mocks her for it, though you suspect part of him is jealous of her seemingly happy listlessness.

Like Chris’s buildings, the couple is in disarray. But Chris and Gitti’s problems are the inverse of his projects’: they look solid from the outside, but some basic design flaw they’d rather ignore undermines everything they’ve built.

Ade’s laconic screenplay wastes no times exposing the cracks. “It should tell you to shut up while I’m reading,” Chris tells Gitti after she says an imaginary friend they’ve made out of wood told her to kiss him. Later Chris asks Gitti why she’s laughing. “Because you’re a horrible actor,” she answers. This after he drapes his arm around her in a rare display of public flirtation.

As you might imagine from a movie whose opening scene shows Gitti, a grown woman, teaching a child how to say, “I hate you! I detest you! Never call me again!” things only get worse. Hans and his wife Sana accelerate Chris and Gitti’s deterioration. After meeting the clearly happier and more successful pair, Chris and Gitti really take the knives out. (Literally, in one chilling, hilarious and completely unexpected sequence.)

Hans and especially Sana might be corny and ridiculous, but few couples on earth are more absurd than Chris and Gitti. They’re on the border of youth and adulthood, bohemianism and professionalism (Gitti hates to admit she likes a fancy dress that makes her look like, well, Sana, saying “I feel so bourgeois” as she puts it on), friskiness and changing diapers. It’s no accident that when you meet them they’re taking care of Chris’ niece and nephew. You momentarily think they’re parents. And you’re quickly relieved they’re not.

Everyone Else’s take on intimacy and frailty is so searing that it’s sometimes painful to watch. Ade avoids the obvious conflicts between Chris’ glum seriousness and Gitti’s strenuous nonchalance. Little things lead to contretemps. And the plainsong barbs are deadly. “You’re embarrassing.” “You’re a weakling.” “Watch how normal people act. Then try to act like them” hit home because at some point, most people say such things to themselves.

Eidinger and Minichmayr handle their grueling though never boring roles impressively. Minichmayr has the showier combustible character. But she’s endearing despite Gitti’s unwieldiness, a trait that late in the game makes the audience gasp just as you think Gitti’s schtick has gotten tedious. Minichmaryr turns Gitti into the kind of person who charms you even though you know better than to let her.

Eidinger’s is the quieter role, but he’s just as impressive. He does more than just mope and stall. Chris is dismissive because he’s insecure. He’s a self-righteous snob desperate to seem mature because he’s still got a good deal of youthful bewilderment. And he deploys a crooked smile to win Gitti over, but the audience learns it means nothing, or at least nothing good.

Bernhard Keller’s cinematography is relaxed but assured. It’s lush and sun-stroked and always well framed, but makes room for some frenetic handheld bits too. Everyone Else captures some alarmingly unguarded moments, impulsive behavior from the two leads—an impromptu, ridiculous dance, a childlike laughing fit in a grocery store—that arise because they’re too caught up in each other to notice that other people might be looking.

The intimacy, combined with understated performances, a colloquial but piercing screenplay and a story about two kooks who belong together no matter how mutually destructive they gives Everyone Else a Cassavettes feel.

During a disastrous hiking trip midway through the movie, Gitti says, “it feels good knowing you can still get lose these days.” It’s not always pleasant to watch Gitti and Chris stumble around in the dark. But as the title implies, we keep looking because we recognize ourselves.

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