"Everyone Else": What Is This Thing Called Love?
By Tim Grierson
May 17, 2010
Should you already need a break from summer movie season, let me direct you to a terrific German export you should catch before it vanishes...
Everyone Else (The Cinema Guild)
What is it about traveling with someone -- especially your new girlfriend or boyfriend -- for the first time that makes it so potentially traumatic? We think we know someone, but then we hit the road with that person and the change of scenery starts to reveal new elements of his or her personality -- not to mention our own.
Everyone Else has been rightly praised for many reasons, but one of the aspects of German writer-director Maren Ade's film that hasn't gotten enough attention is its ability to convey that underlying anxiety that creeps in when we embark on a vacation with someone we're just starting to fall for. This niggling uncertainty adds suspense to the film's story of young lovers spending the summer together, and it also helps to explain the subtle character shifts that go on during this superb drama.
The couple in question are Chris (Lars Eidinger) and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), Germans hanging out in Italy at his parents' vacation home. Ade doesn't nail down exactly how long they've been together, but certain clues emerge thanks to their conversation, specifically the negotiation of telling each other "I love you," which indicates that they're still at the fragile early period when each partner is trying to maintain a healthy romantic momentum while worrying about risking a naked emotional intimacy that could be rejected. Chris is an aspiring, struggling architect, while Gitti works in publicity for a major record label. Chris has soft, almost girlish features, while Gitti possesses a steelier look, not to mention a more brazen, outgoing disposition. But despite their differences, Everyone Else doesn't paint them in opposites-attract absolutes: Like no film in recent memory, Ade's subtle romantic drama seems to understand that couples (especially at the outset) have this fluid back-and-forth between love, aggravation, neediness and giddy optimism.
At first, Everyone Else is merely a smart observation on the inner-workings of Chris and Gitti's relationship, capturing every small moment that makes up a romance. We feel their chemistry and attraction, and we enjoy seeing them together, but we also wonder if their white-hot passion will burn out quickly, guaranteeing them a memorable summer but dooming them to miss out on a permanent coupling. Without calling much attention to her strategy, Ade turns the early stretches of her film into a kind of mystery: Are these people meant to be together? And if not, what might drive them apart?
Those questions rise to the surface when Chris and Gitti come into contact with another couple, a married pair that Chris knows and had hoped to avoid on his vacation. But this foursome start interacting, and problems start to surface. And it's here where Ade really taps into that universal anxiety about traveling and how it reveals things about ourselves and those closest to us. Just as subtly as she lays out her two characters in the beginning, Everyone Else slowly ratchets up a tension that would seemingly be impossible for such a quiet, simple romantic drama. But it's the film's deceptively minor-key observational technique that makes the later plot developments so momentuous, shifting our loyalties between the different characters and astutely dissecting how love can sometimes just be another form of desperate approval that we're seeking from the outside world.
Unfamiliar to me, Eidinger and Minichmayr are both exceptional, particularly in their skill to believably replicate that casual emotional side-shuffle that goes on during courtship. Think of so many American romantic dramas, even those of the indie variety -- the lovers seem to move so quickly from "love" to "hate" back to "love" that it feels terribly programmatic. But Everyone Else's cast boasts a flexibility you rarely see elsewhere -- and that extends to Hans-Jochen Wagner and Nicole Marischka, who play the couple that unwittingly reveal cracks in Chris and Gitti's love affair.
With a movie this delicate, where every story beat has to be executed just about perfectly lest the whole enterprise collapse, you start to hold your breath in suspense wondering if Ade and her cast will step wrong. Alas, not everything in Everyone Else works brilliantly, but so much of it does that even its lesser moments feel inexorably linked to all that's captivating and mysterious about this film. Like love itself, Everyone Else is far from perfect, but its sustaining pleasures make you wonder how you ever lived without it.
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