Nobody but you

Pub date June 29, 2010
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionFilm Review

FILM The couple on holiday is one of modern cinema’s quintessential sites of anxiety: Voyage to Italy (1954), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Weekend (1967), and L’avventura (1960) all chart its precipitous course. The merely inexorable ennui of the vacationing lovers is the existential flipside of the couple bound by oblivion, like so many Bonnie and Clydes. That may be heady company with which to introduce Maren Ade’s pairing in Everyone Else, her second feature, but in so laying bare the behavioral excesses of characters struggling for authentic expression, she’s made a distinctly modernist romantic comedy — one without air.

Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) are failing miserably at basic communication. This happens on vacation. Without the steadying rails of vocation, moods and unintended remarks are pursued further than they would be otherwise. Everyone Else figures holiday as a stage, in which the principles grasp for their roles in relationship to the other. Acting is brought up early and often. After a dangerous conversation about Chris’s masculinity, Gitti laughs at his "bad acting" when he casually throws his arm around her. "I didn’t know I was acting," he mutters.

They are a young, bourgeoisie German couple staying at his parents’ villa in Sardinia. He is a disappointed architect, she a music publicist. Already, though, this capsule betrays the film’s methodical mode of exposition, whereby facts like "his parents’ villa" and "in Sardinia" are realized in conversation, later than we expect. Before then, we’re privy to inner jokes, private nonsense, and gestural rapport. Rather than using such minutiae to ingratiate us into Chris and Gitti’s quirks, Ade is embedding us in the relationship’s interior.

We realize how deeply during the course of two dinners with an architect acquaintance and his wife, the first at the new couple’s house and the second at the villa. The other pair stands in for the "everybody else" of the title, and, in their outsized performance as a couple, acts as a convenient cipher for Chris and Gitti’s bottomless insecurities. As an afternoon champagne toast for the other’s couple’s pregnancy (one of many reminders in the film that Chris and Gitti are not expecting — a baby or anything else) gives way to sour bickering, Chris and Gitti’s conventional appearance cracks under the stress of false pretenses; just sitting on the same side of the table seems like a lie.

Both characters trail inconstant emotions without having resolved their meaning beforehand, but there’s a far greater dynamic range in their body language. Ade’s staging of Minichmayr and Eidinger’s bodies forms a vividly choreographed counterpoint to the many doublings in her script. Twice, Chris roughly embraces Gitti after she’s told him that she loves him: a false show of decisiveness masking indifference. Gitti wraps herself around Chris’ body when she’s most insecure of his love: hardly subtle, and, tragically, with an effect precisely contrary to her desire for comfort.

In screwball comedies, a couple’s disliking each other is a sure sign of their chemistry — it looks like fun, especially when the plot throws obstacles in the way of the inevitable consummation. Chris and Gitti are not cold fish — their passion is intense, if swollen by doubt — but the fact that their relationship’s obstacles are self-imposed leads to a certain captive mentality, in which staying together means being marooned from the outside world.

EVERYONE ELSE opens Fri/2 in Bay Area theaters.