Becoming a couple, squirmy moment by squirmy moment, in Everyone Else

Sep 15, 2010 at 4:00 am

An exercise in voyeurism, Maren Ade's provocatively titled, superbly performed, emotionally graphic Everyone Else is more fascinating than enjoyable. Placing a youngish, newly formed couple under relentless observation, Ade's two-hour squirmathon gets a bit more intimate on the subject of intimacy than the viewer might wish.

The 34-year-old German director's 2003 debut The Forest for the Trees was a tragicomic account of a neophyte teacher's education; Everyone Else ponders another type of on-the-job training. Chris (Lars Eidinger), an underemployed architect, and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), a middling music-industry publicist (for a band called the Shames, no less), take a week to culture their relationship in the Petri dish of his parents' haute-bourgeois, kitsch-stuffed Sardinian villa.

The setting has an Edenic quality, but although frequently seen in beach attire, Chris and Gitti are less Adam and Eve than Mutt and Jeff. He's tall and pasty, a good-looking guy with a weak chin and a worried expression; she's small and robust, a blunt, boisterous bundle of nervous energy. Their compatibility seems founded on genuine mutual appreciation, amplified by a shared sense of humor. But even affectionate teasing has an edge; each is anxious to impress the other. (Gitti precipitates a fabulous disaster by overpacking her rucksack with an elaborate surprise picnic for a hike into the hills that Chris does not know as well as he imagines.) She's impulsive, he's risk-averse, as well as accident-prone. When she begs to go dancing, he creates a disco in the living room, interpreting the Willie Nelson–Julio Iglesias eye-roller "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" with a spastic karaoke display that is the movie's comic set piece, if not even close to its sole instance of audience embarrassment.

For all their talk, Chris and Gitti reveal nothing of past involvements. Their couple is itself a character, an act of solidarity consecrated with all manner of newly invented private riffs. (The performances are unusually rich. Ade told Cinema Scope that she treated her actors as the experts on their parts: "There was a point when they were so much into their characters that I could do 'interviews' with them.") At the same time, both are haunted by their separate failures. Chris' insecurities are partially professional — for most of the movie, he can't bring himself to tell Gitti that his project failed to win a particular architectural competition — but only partially. At one point, Gitti bursts out laughing when asked if she finds him sufficiently masculine. She's less refined but equally sensitive; lacking confidence in her looks, she has no difficulty articulating her easily bruised feelings. The movie's first scene has her overreacting to a perceived slight from a six-year-old child.

The serpent enters this vacation paradise midway through in the form of another, more successful and seemingly happier pair — Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), a former schoolmate of Chris', and Sana (Nicole Marischka), a fashionable clothing designer. Hans is smugly expansive, Sana is totally approving. After a comic attempt at avoidance, Chris and Gitti wind up at Hans and Sana's place for a barbecue — the evening founded on the bad faith of the protagonists' broken date with a less formidable couple. The dinner is not only discomfiting but also divisive — it creates a triangle. Chris, desperate for Hans' approval and professional advice, abandons Gitti to have a drink with him the next afternoon. Act III culminates with a reciprocal dinner invitation, the viewer wondering exactly how the simmering hostility — not to mention the yearning — will bubble over.

Predicated on a succession of intractable moments, Everyone Else is never as grueling as Chris and Gitti's ill-fated hike; the movie is, however, concentrated enough to become experiential. Ade's exploration of intimacy and its discontents recalls the European relationship epics of 35 years ago — Rivette's L'amour fou, Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage, Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore — but it's purposefully down-sized and set in a lower key. Ade has an acute sense of gesture. The tumult ends with a simple request that more or less recaps the entire movie: Chris asks Gitti only to look at him.