Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Film: Everyone Else

Warning: the following post contains spoilers.

Writer-director Maren Ade's Everyone Else (Alle Anderen, 2009) proves to be another pinnacle among Germany's current "Berlin School" of filmmaking, following Valeska Grisebach's Longing (2006), for which Ade was credited with a "thanks," Stefan Krohmer's Summer '04 (2006) and Christian Petzold's Jerichow (2008), though unlike this trio of major works, Ade's film lacks the triangular geometry that each of these films brought to their romantic plots. Everyone Else's narrative of relationship in crisis remains resolutely couple-centered, dissecting Gitti's (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris's (Lars Eidinger) apparent incompatibility, though it remains unclear whether they would generate equal antagonism in relationships other than their own. Their enmity springs from their clashing personalities - rendered with an uttermost precision by Ade - that at their worst prove irritating in Gitti's case and cruel in Chris's. The latter, indeed, is repelled not only by his girlfriend's genuine, verbose singularity, as is evident in his demand that she "shut up" when he reads, and his nasty response that he had wanted to talk about something else following her suggestion that they live together, but also by her very presence, compelling Chris in one instance to walk rapidly ahead of Gitti as the pair hike through the rocky, Sardinia landscape. Gitti at her least desirous coaches a child to admit that she hates her older babysitter - even though her sentiment seems directed at Chris, he nonetheless finds her behavior amusing - and later pulls a knife on her more attractive, pregnant house-guest Sana (Nicole Marischka), before hurling herself outside a second-story window in what may or may not be a suicide attempt.

Ade contrasts Chris's and Gitti's relational difficulties with the outward happiness of the married Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and Sana, who unlike Gitti and the purportedly brilliant Chris, have each achieved notable successes in their chosen fields - Sana as a fashion-designer and Hans as an architect, Chris's profession. As they meet on two separate occasions for dinner, Hans and Sana convey a decided affinity, even if their rapport is based on unfunny jokes and an obvious, easy derision of culturally outdated artifacts and Chris's mother's singularity (as expressed in her porcelain cat and glass collections). Gitti cannot abide the latter, and especially Chris's participation in the mocking, which marks his and their relative low character, to say nothing of their lack of authenticity. However, they do seem to have achieved a happiness nonetheless - which Ade depicts from the outside: it remains mildly incomprehensible what Sana sees in Hans - as a reminder for Chris in particular as to what he does not have. That the less attractive and talented Hans (though he is still both of these, to be fair) has the more attractive and socially adjusted wife compels at least a share of Chris's animus toward Gitti.

Gitti, on the other hand, proves his devoted companion throughout; she clearly loves Chris more than he loves her (in this regard Everyone Else proves to be a variation on Michelangelo Antonioni's four Monica Vitti vehicles), clutching him from behind as the pair recline on the sunny poolside. Indeed, Chris emerges as the film's more frequent object of desire, shirtless and almost dressed ubiquitously in a tight-fitting pair of blue jeans to the curvy Gitti's bikini; in a moment replicating Longing's most memorable scene - according to Ade, fellow female filmmaker Grisebach helped on the film - Chris sways and dances, crawling along the floor to Willie Nelson's "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," with Ade's mobile camera tightly framing the male lead throughout. Chris's psychology is also the more opaque in comparison to Gitti's straightforward, confessed affection. Chris most frequently returns his feelings during the film's very sexy, visceral love-making passages, thus making his feelings toward Gitti no more clear. Ultimately, it is in both Chris's relative physical objectification and the opaqueness of his psychology - even if the presence of Hans and Sana offer some insight: he wishes to preserve his intellectual superiority, while also winning the more beautiful woman - that the female point-of-view of Ade's film expresses itself most strongly.

For Ade's female heroine, her relative individuality yields her superior character (as seen in her response to Chris and company's ridiculing of his mother's particularities) while also making her less attractive to her somewhat conformist-minded, "weakling" boyfriend. On multiple occasions, Chris even professes his embarrassment with Gitti, who though she attempts to fit in by buying a dress that she later admits makes her feel "bourgeois," proves unable to find pleasure in those things that the seemingly more simple, albeit creative Hans and Sana seem to enjoy. Finally, Gitti again flings herself from a second story window, which ends not in her death but rather a particularly heated, alfresco sex scene. Thereafter she tells Chris that she is leaving and that she no longer loves him, leading to Chris's protest that he knows the latter to be untrue. As she prepares to leave, Gitti takes a sip of juice, a bite of cherry and then collapses onto the living room rug where she remains frozen over what appears an extended duration. Throughout, Chris remains at her side, even answering her cell phone leading him to lie and say that she has gone to the beach. With Gitti motionless on the ground, Chris picks up his pure-of-heart Snow White whom he lifts onto a table, blowing on her stomach as one would an infant. She responds with a chuckle, even as her eyes remain closed and she preserves her unconscious valiance. Character thus takes precedence over narrative resolution in this concluding set-up, as Ade refuses to confirm whether or not they will stay together.

Ade herself has suggested that the conclusion marks a reversion to childhood, "a regressive desire to go back to a time of reckless innocence" that the couple has since lost. The filmmaker's interpretation thusly corresponds to her film's greatest virtue, beyond the precision with which she molds her very authentic lead and supporting players: the precise rendering of a specific time in the lives of a young couple, namely the end of their twenty-somethings, before either has experienced professional success and before the couple has any children of their own. Like the work of Wong Kar-wai, Ade, thirty-two at the time of the film's Berlin premiere in early 2009, has created one of the more authentic portraits of young adulthood - in her film's case from a standpoint inside the couple - ever to have graced the screen. Everyone Else certainly will serve as a mirror to many of its pre-middle aged, art house viewers. Ade's is seriously adult, seriously accomplished filmmaking.


Anonymous said...

I very much agree with all of this. However, I'm 97% sure it's the same day after that cut in the conclusion. Her phone rings, he walks into the next room, cut, he's in that room having just cried for a while, the phone rings again, which he this time answers. Only a couple of hours max have passed, I would say.

[spoilers to follow]

This concluding charade nicely ties back to the little allegory at the beginning with the boyfriend's neice (which itself sets up a central idea present in the film "If you hate me, tell me").

I particularly like the scene with her jumping out the window, and the proceeding sex scene. Together they crystalise the dynamic (problem?) of the relationship. Earlier he mentions a dream in which he soars out the window to express his love for her, thus explaining her action there. But he doesn't recognise the act (story-wise of course he just doesn't see her, metaphorically speaking we know). And whilst having sex he (finally?) is the first to proclaim love. Though I agree we're never totally aware of how he feels, positioning Ade and us more in line with Gitti than Chris, it seems at this stage he appreciates their lust perhaps more than everything else. And Gitti seems to feel the same, considering her following behaviour.

Excellent film. You can tell Ade made her actors watch Bergman and Cassavetes, the interactions are complex and extremely well-observed. The best German film I've seen in some time. Though I do like Yella quite a bit.

Michael J. Anderson said...

Thank you for your excellent contribution, tripzone. My guess is that you are indeed right that Ade does not shift from day to night to day as I suggested in my post. I got this impression at the time, but in retrospect I'm sure I was wrong. 97% seems about right.

Michael J. Anderson said...

Tripzone, I have just received confirmation of your point. As such, I have amended the piece so that it will not be misleading in future. I tend to prefer accuracy even if it means that I must be revisionist. Thanks again.

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Anonymous said...

You made a bit of a slip there in describing the one going 'comatose' as Ade rather than Gitti. This scene recalled Ade for me, though, having seen her previous film, in that she essentially remolds the ending which was stylistically incongruous there but is now presented in a stylistically fitting and, as such, more alive manner, thus allowing a character to penetrate the metaphor where in the previous film she was alone - this is the point of the scene, but it is a fully surreal one whereas here it is only apparently surreal, burst by his interaction. I initially had the same feeling that you had, that it switched from day to night, initially thinking he had pulled a Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar, but then it dawned on me that it was just a darkly shadowed wall.

If I may, I would suggest checking out Angela Schanelec's work as many seem to regard her as the best of the relatively young German filmmakers (I haven't seen much aside from Ade and Schanelec, but I find the latter to be a far more accomplished visual, formal, and structural filmmaker, although she's a good deal less 'commercial' in that her films are much less 'exciting' and my favorite of hers, Marseille, is formally very complex and dense and wonderful).