[30 April 2010]
Singletons bemoaning their relationship status should make a point of seeing the fascinating romantic drama Everyone Else. Its romantic ups-and-downs could cure them of any desire for intimacy with another living person. On the other hand, the currently coupled may find watching this film discomfiting, as it may force them to confront the subtle dysfunctional dynamics in their own relationships.
Chris (Lars Eidinger) and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) are a young German couple vacationing at his parents’ summer house on Sardinia. Chris is a promising yet stubbornly idealistic architect. He has a face one might find in a Modigliani painting: a long sloping nose, curvaceous cheeks and lips, and eyes that are often inscrutable. Gitti, a music PR exec, is less polished, but terrifically sexy. She spends most of the film clad in a bikini that shows off her sun-kissed freckled skin and pert backside.
At the start of their idyll, Chris and Gitti share a tender chemistry and an idiosyncratic sense of humor. Gitti paints his face with makeup, and when Chris carves a figurine out of a misshapen knob of ginger, she adopts it as their mascot. At a supermarket, Chris scrambles to avoid bumping into Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), a colleague he detests, and the couple laughingly takes cover behind a store display. But even in these happy moments, the interplay between Chris and Gitta has an aggressive physicality, and as their vacation wears on, their playfulness takes on a palpable edge.
In wonderfully staged scenes, writer-director Maren Ade shows how lovers volley for power and how the strongest (and most infuriating) strategy for coming out on top is silence (as when one refuses even to acknowledge a question, much less answer it). As she and Chris have sex, Gitti nudges him to make a commitment, first by telling him that she loves him, then by asking if they can have intercourse without protection. Chris denies her, stepping out of bed to grab a condom from his bag, and the two continue to make love, wordlessly. It’s a tense and excruciating moment.
The tension only escalates when Chris and Gitti find they can no longer avoid Hans and his adoring young wife (Nicole Marischka). At first it seems that Chris is jealous of Hans’ spectacular professional success. But it soon becomes clear that Hans triggers not just feelings of insecurity in Chris, but also his haughtiness and meanness, of which Gitti becomes the target. When she jumps to Chris’ defense at a dinner party with the other couple, insulting Hans in the process, Chris merely gives her a withering look and remarks that she is “so embarrassing.”
Soon Chris’ petty humiliations become cruel, as when he stays just out of Gitti’s sights during a hike in a remote area, escalating her fears of abandonment. She responds to Chris’ systemic withdrawal by trying to win him back with kindness and by growing ever clingier. Watching Gitti—a formerly wild, impulsive creature—grovel for Chris’ attention is maddening. Even worse, it seems like Ade may be reinforcing insulting stereotypes about unmarried women being desperate and masochistic to secure a man. But in the third act, Ade complicates the equation, and the view learns that Gitti still has a few tricks up her sleeve.
Rather than making a statement about gender dynamics, the film shows with pinpoint accuracy the moment when intimates can become strangers to each other. It illustrates the pain and bewilderment that come when a lover makes an unpredictable gesture or alienating remark. It also demonstrates how the urgency of our own emotions can make us strangers to ourselves.
Everyone Else captures the shift in a relationship when a renounced lover is forced to examine his or her motivation for hanging on. Is it the lost love object that one is really seeking? Or to be declared the winner of a competition that offers no real victory? In the film’s sad and suspenseful final moments, Chris and Gitti indicate that they may know each other far better than the audience has assumed. It’s then that the most powerless position in this cinematic love triangle (Chris, Gitti, and the audience) becomes evident. As an observer, you can only know so much.