Everyone Else (Alle Anderen)
dir. Maren Ade, 2009, Germany/Italy
The bottom line: The ultimate “anti-date movie” is also one of the year’s best films.
Now playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center is Everyone Else, a vital and unusually accomplished psychological drama from the young German director Maren Ade. Word of mouth on the film has been so positive that when I saw it on the final day of its first run earlier in the summer, the screening was completely sold out. This is a rare and impressive feat for a new foreign language film with no international stars in the cast. Thankfully, Everyone Else has now returned due to popular demand, so Chicago cinema lovers who missed out the first time around should make seeing this a high priority. Everyone Else, Ade’s second film (following 2003’s The Forest for the Trees, which I haven’t seen), is an exceptionally well-crafted character study about how the subtle tensions in a relationship between a young German couple become exacerbated while they vacation in Sardinia. The film is primarily a two person show; as the couple lounges around an isolated, sun-baked villa, only gradually are we able to piece together the puzzle of who these people are and what they mean to each other. Chris is an architect, Gitti works for a record label. He’s insecure about his job, she’s insecure about their relationship. They tell each other “I love you” and yet he makes vaguely insulting comments that indicate he’s not as into her as she is into him.
As the plot progresses through a series of incredibly realistic scenes that don’t seem to have been written or directed as much as spontaneously materialized before our eyes, we sense an inexorable shift in the power dynamic of the couple’s relationship. After a chance encounter with a rival architect and his pregnant wife at a grocery store, all four characters get together for dinner. Gambits designed to one-up, petty jealousies and subtle glances play out over the course of a masterfully orchestrated nighttime scene in the backyard of the villa. From this point on, both Chris and Gitti see their relationship in a new light and it is he who will grow to need her more and more. Finally, both characters end up pushing each other too far, beyond that mysterious, intangible point from which no couple can return. Emotionally raw, occasionally painful to watch and very deliberately paced, every scene in Everyone Else rings true. Credit must be given to lead actors Birgit Minichmayr as the spunky Gitti and Lars Eidinger as the brooding Chris, both of whom turn in pitch perfect performances. Credit too must be given to Ade for her direction of these performers as well as for her script, which divides our attention and sympathy between the two and, unlike the supposedly daring The Kids Are All Right, never allows us to make easy judgments.
Everyone Else has a narrative that, more akin to Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl (not coincidentally another film by a female director with her finger on the pulse of the times), insidiously snakes its way to its conclusion in the ominous fashion of a slow-burning fuse. When the last scene arrives one can’t help but fear that something devastating will happen. Nothing does — and that becomes perhaps the most devastating ending of all. Many films have been made about the process of falling in love. Everyone Else is one of the few I can think of that details, with accuracy and intelligence, the gradual, painful process of falling out of it.