For lovers, pivotal realizations
By Dan Kois
Friday, June 11, 2010
"You make a better door than you do a window," goes the old saw, and the German relationship drama "Everyone Else" is a fascinating and frustrating portrait of doors and windows -- and what happens when they date each other. The window is Gitti, played by Birgit Minichmayr, whose face transparently conveys each one of her dozens of conflicting emotions and impulses. The door is Chris (Lars Eidinger), an acclaimed but struggling architect who has shut himself tight and is as uncomfortable with Gitti's declarations of love as he is when she confesses that she hates him sometimes, too.
I didn't choose the metaphor of windows and doors haphazardly; in fact, ingress and egress seem to be on the mind of writer-director Maren Ade, who won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for "Everyone Else" -- as well as on the minds of its central couple, who have just entered into a love affair but who already may be thinking about getting out. Vacationing on the Italian island of Sardinia, Gitti and Chris shut doors against the dark, catch sight of each other through open windows, and even walk right into doors, drawing blood.
Their relationship is strained by the appearance of an old art-school friend of Chris's, Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), who once worked with Chris on a project and went on to acclaim after Chris withdrew. Hans and his wife, Sana (Nicole Marischka), bicker over many of the same issues that plague Chris and Gitti's relationship, but they seem to have reached a level of comfort and acceptance of each other that Chris and Gitti can't attain.
If you're allergic to neurotic self-regard or tragic Euro short shorts, "Everyone Else" isn't for you. Its characters have a limitless capacity for discussing themselves, and the movie can move exceptionally slowly. At times you may want to reach into the movie screen and shake some sense into the couple. "Chris," you'll want to say, "stop being such a cold fish. Gitti, have you considered going on meds for your manic episodes?"
But so keenly perceived are their fumbling interactions by director Ade that, watching patiently, you'll sympathize with the pair, and begin to choose sides in their conflicts. They're human enough that the question of who's in the right remains in flux throughout the film.
All that's certain is that we're getting to know these two characters exceptionally well and that their tics and flaws are as recognizable as our own.
Toward the end of the movie, as the two listen to a sublimely cheesy love song by the German pop idol Herbert Grnemeyer, you'll realize that thanks to the accretion of details built by Ade and her intuitive, appealing actors, you can read minds: Gitti's longing for a connection, Chris's resistance to feeling, and the joint realization that this is a defining moment.
Indeed, "Everyone Else" is, to an extent, about the ways that the detritus of our day-to-day life accumulates and defines us. A favorite song; a hunk of ginger; a dress you can't decide whether to return; a daydream about throwing yourself out the window: It all comes back, more and more powerful, making us who we are. Chris and Gitti, defiant and original characters, share a fear of becoming "like everyone else," but this film makes the case that they could never be anyone but themselves.
Kois is a freelance writer.
At the Avalon Theatre. Contains nudity, sex and bad German pop. 120 minutes.