Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alle anderen (Everybody Else)

One of the definite highlights of the 2009 AFI festival for me was Berlin Jury Prize-winner Everybody Else, the highly impressive second feature from writer/director Maren Ade. Fearlessly performed by stage actors Birgit Minichmayr (winner of the Best Actress Bear at Berlin) and Lars Eidinger, it is virtually a two-hander that presents a young couple on vacation in Sardinia and minutely charts the frictions, tensions and mismatching of moods that build inexorably to undermine a relationship.

Chris is a long lanky boy with eyes too close together that can simmer with a blue fire of coldness; he is an architect, intellectual and sure of his ideas but professionally insecure, and less of a free spirit than Gitti, a freckle-faced pixie who is given to speaking her mind but is devoted to him. In one of the opening scenes she pesters him while reading until he eventually tells her, through the medium of a ginger root figurine he made for her, to shut up. It is only the first of many such scenes where their failure to connect is brought about by simple insensitivity to the other’s current state of mind. They start off as a happy couple, sneaking around like kids from an unwanted neighbour, but almost every scene has a barb, each perfectly observed and presented, which will often result in Gitt's natural emotionalism being met with, or prompting, a closed-off coldness. She may bother Chris at inappropriate times, but that is only because she wants his attention; his thoughts tend primarily to himself, whilst hers are more oriented towards them. As the more emotional of the two, she is happy to tell him he’s an asshole, but in a foul mood he will be ungracious towards her attempts to please him and the expression of his displeasure is through lesson-teaching aloofness.

They run into another couple, an ex student colleague of Chris, whose apparently happy relationship puts more cracks into that of the central pair. Chris’s private professions of dislike for Hans vanish, to Gitti’s slight dismay, and she embarrasses Chris with her outspokenness; his reaction to her defense of him is of course to shut her out. The fine nuances of social interaction are expertly presented, from veiled insults, intended and not, to jokes and stories that fall flat, and the small changes to the personality of the individual and of the couple that come with company.

When Chris emerges from his existential funk – he is in Sardinia in part to see a potential client – he becomes distinctly easier to live with; but Gitti cannot help noticing that he found a point of interest in the job because of Hans' voicing something that she herself had first suggested. When matters come to a head it is because her reserves of good humour have finally run dry. The film is very even-handed in its apportioning of blame to the relationship’s downhill trajectory, and that it is achieved so finely is due to careful pacing, fine performances and superbly pointed writing. Appropraitely and effectively, there's no music. It even pulls off the rare feat of a sex scene that is not only fully integral to the story but almost as much of a release for the audience as for the characters. The title is slightly cock-eyed – although both are self-regardingly proud of their individuality (as Gitti is of Chris’s, although he doesn’t return the compliment) – the fissures in their relationship and the path it takes are nigh-on universal. It lacks too in backstory – knowing what brought the two together in the first place would greatly contextualize how they are now coming apart, the strengthes and weaknesses of the binding ties – but it is highly affecting in the unflinching accuracy of its observation, remarkable in its pinpoint attention to emotional detail and extremely impressive all round, an object lesson in the mistakes not to make .

d/sc Maren Ade p Maren Ade, Dirk Engelhardt, Janine Jackowski ph Gernhard Keller ed Heike Parplies pd Silke Fischer, Volko Kamensky cast Birgit Minichmay, Lars Eidinger, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Nicole Marischka
(2009, Ger, 119m)
posted by tom newth at

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