Initial Thoughts on "Everyone Else" By Mark Peranson

in 11st Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Mark Peranson

An alternately loving and feuding couple vacation on Sardinia: he, Chris, a struggling, perhaps visionary architect (Lars Eidinger); she, Gitti, a music publicist (Birgit Minichmayr, winner of a Silver Bear in Berlin). As long as they exist in an hermetic sphere of their own creation, they are comfortable in their bodies. Theirs is a uniquely defined interaction where he is the more “feminine” partner — performing a dance to Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias’ “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” under Gitti’s gaze and the feminine gaze of the camera — while she, first seen performing a rather vicious example of bad parenting, constantly struggles to put on a dress, generally emitting a confident air that we normally associate with masculinity. This binary way of defining what a person should be, however, only sets up a shell of a framework that Maren Ade uses to investigate deeper issues associated with a coupling, and, aided by actors who are fearless in exploring their own bodies and minds, turns a seemingly simple story into an emotional tour de force that may be unparalleled in recent cinema.

Though hinting at the type of relationship earlier dissected in Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy or Antonioni’s L’Avventura, Ade’s sophomore film Everyone Else (Alle Anderen) is a new kind of relationship drama about the things some do for love, and I don’t use the word “new” casually. It’s a film where constant shifts in point of view are subtle and never clearly indicated; just when you think you’ve grasped the film, it slips away, yet again, like grains of sand through your fingers. I’ve seen the film three times, and each one has left me even more uncertain of what I’m supposed to think at any one moment, or about Chris and Gitti’s relationship as a whole: this creates a different kind of experience than normally posed by such a cinema, at times psychological, at times theatrical and/or childish, at all times, realistic and honest. Perhaps the questions posed by Everyone Else, which digs deep into a relationship without compromising to dramatic conventions, are so challenging that the only way to deal with them is, as Variety’s Derek Elley did in his stupid Berlinale review, by dispensing with them entirely.

Yes, perhaps the first half of the film is more aligned with Chris, and the second with Gitti, but Ade and her actors provide more subtle distinctions within this structure, and, consequently, do away with traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity. Ade’s first film, The Forest for the Trees (Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen), is in part a sly comment of the way women are defined as unstable, and this unpacking continues here as Gitti’s “female” emotions take more and more hold of her as the film develops, culminating in acts that can be read, in a traditional framework, as full-blown psychosis. This break in the film comes when Chris and Gitti are confronted a more successful version of their coupling, in the form of freshly minted documenta artist Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and his pregnant wife (Nicole Marischka); Hans’ success has the affect of transforming Chris (exacerbating his latent asshole tendencies), and, in reaction, Gitti.

This so-called “second part” of the film has been criticized as — kind of like Gitti does — going off the rails, a comment that only makes sense to me if one doesn’t pay close attention to the first half, or is trapped in classical forms (such as the art Ingrid Bergman surveys in her own Italian vacation). Ade has said that the four characters combine to create a single person, and that makes some sense to me, but the magic of Everyone Else is hard to define or pin down. Watching the film there is some sense that the emotions that are being created for the camera are themselves beyond the intentions of the actors and the director; this in no way is to slight the two amazing performances (from actors regularly based in the theatre), or Ade’s direction, only to say that in the best art, the final product is usually part conscious, part unconscious.

© FIPRESCI 2009