Dir: Maren Ade
Criticwire Average: A-
Maren Ade’s erotic, yet emotionally chilling relationship drama “Everyone Else” begins with a tense argument, not between the film’s main couple Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger), but between Gitti and her young niece. Frustrated that her niece doesn’t want to spend any time with her, Gitti accosts her and asks her point blank why she thinks she’s so awful. “It’s only bad if you don’t tell me because then I don’t even know if it’s something I can change or not,” she tells her. At first it starts as a serious question, and then slowly becomes a playful exercise ending with the niece “shooting” Gitti into the pool. This brief exchange stands as a microcosm for the troubles in Chris and Gitti’s relationship, with both finding dissatisfaction in each other but unable to openly address the exact nature of said dissatisfaction. Though they’re affectionate with one another, and they talk constantly about their fears and insecurities, their communication nevertheless remains highly self-conscious, both indulging in ironic displays that keep the other at an awkward distance.
While the problems in Chris and Gitti’s relationship are identifiable, Ade never presents them as simplistic or solvable, instead embracing the contradictions and complexities of their interpersonal dynamics. In fact, the best part of “Everyone Else” has to be Ade’s refusal to make the film schematic in almost any way. She doesn’t keep building tension before releasing it or foreshadow any major reveal; she just depicts how people who love each other can also be casually shitty to one another, and how the build up of such behavior has a devastating effect. In effect, she sets a bunch of mines in the narrative only for none of them to blow. There are many scenes between Chris and Gitti that begin flirtatious that end with them at odds, like their first day together: They lounge together half-naked during the day, friskily avoiding their nosy neighbor, but when Chris gets bad news from work at night, he becomes cold and distant and starts snapping at Gitti for watching TV. But as soon as they become emotionally separated, they come back together just as quickly, like a crackling ebb and flow.
It would be easy to say that Chris and Gitti are simply mismatched, two people with insurmountable differences, but Ade never quite tips her hand in that direction. Ade goes to lengths to capture them in happy moments, or at least times when they enjoy each other’s company even when they’re clearly embarrassed around the other, e.g. Gitti watching Chris dance to Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias’ “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” with mild bemusement. Yet, she also drops bits of character information that have clearly festered for a while in the characters’ history, like Gitti’s frustration with Chris’ lack of ambition in his architecture career or Chris’ irritation with Gitti’s outspoken or dramatic behavior, especially around guests. (Or, my personal favorite: Whenever Gitti tells Chris she loves him, Chris responds by kissing her rather than actually telling her he loves her, much to Gitti’s annoyance.) Again, Ade has no prescribed narrative outcome in her back pocket; these disappointments and aggravations mostly function as a part of the rich tapestry of their relationship.
In many ways, “Everyone Else” is a study of contrasts, both psychologically and visually. Bernhard Keller’s sun-drenched photography captures Chris and Gitti’s bodies in a vulnerable light, but their physical connectedness in their private moments only highlights the distance between them. It’s later emphasized when Ade introduces fellow architect Hans and his wife Sana (Hans-Jochen Wagner and Nicole Marischka) into the mix. Compared to the lovey-dovey, positively tender relationship between Hans and Sana, Chris and Gitti look downright uncomfortable in comparison. (In their scenes together, Ade frames Hans and Sana as a tight-knit couple, often clinging to one another, while Chris and Gitti are frequently at a distance, even when they’re sitting right next to each other.) It’s not that they don’t have cute in-jokes and little quips, but they don’t parade them around like Hans and Sana, which in turn makes them feel insecure, but of course it’s discussed only in roundabout suggestion.
Ade leaves the status of Chris and Gitti’s relationship unclear by the end of “Everyone Else,” but the will-they-won’t-they part of it seems largely beside the point (For the record, I vote “will they”). Ade studies how an intimate relationship can still be two people largely talking past each other, ignoring the fissures in front of them, and attempting small fixes for big problems. They may love each other, but they’re too unwilling to make the necessary gestures for the other; instead, they’re two people alone on a mountain with one running away from the other. But by the end, Chris makes a tiny, silly gesture of love that signals towards something resembling hope for the both of them. Sometimes everything needs to be on the line for someone to fully understand what they stand to lose.