When we first meet Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eldinger), they appear a perfect couple enjoying an afternoon of domestic bliss with the kids. This idyllic picture is disturbed, however, by the arrival of a second couple. The wife admires Chris holding the baby and says “That looks good on you,” suggesting he has untapped parental instincts. For these are borrowed children—our protagonists are just babysitting—and that realization is the first of many in Everyone Else that peel the paint from Chris and Gitti’s union until it’s raw and gaping.
Movies so seldom focus on the ordinary minutia of a failing relationship that one like Maren Ade’s second feature can seem very striking for what it doesn’t do—like pull any big melodramatic cop-outs. (It has become a particularly lazy cliche in dramas recently to hinge a shaky marriage on a child’s death or even murder, as if nothing but the absolute worst possible scenario could explain why good people might no longer want to be with each other.)
Not much of a conventional plotty nature “happens” in Everyone Else—after all, this German couple is on vacation in Sardinia, so mostly they’re just trying to enjoy themselves. From the very start that’s not so easy, however. For every moment of spontaneous affection, humor or physical pleasure, there are ones in which Gitti and Chris chafe against each other or even against themselves. Frustratingly, they want to be together—while each wants the other to be someone, something else. Periodically that erupts in the kind of brutal, accusatory assessment of personal flaws that usually means a relationship is at death’s door. Can this union be saved? Should it?
Lanky, insecure Chris is a young architect of purported brilliance, but his uncompromising ideas have so far held his career back from a successful launch. He’s awaiting news about an important design competition prize. But the odds are against him, and if he loses, will Gitti still respect him? She clearly admires his talent but also fears he’s too “weak” to avoid becoming a forever-“promising” failure.
At first such brusque attitudes make her seem much the less sympathetic half of Everyone’s coupledom. A major-label music publicist, Gitti can be temperamental, insensitive, arbitrary—when during lovemaking Chris answers her “I love you” with the same, she snaps “Don’t always answer like that!” Yet as the film proceeds, we see how Chris, too, can be a jerk. Yet both these people have lovely qualities, even (or especially) as a pair.
Among the incidents that keep Ade’s drama percolating—and its protagonists’ bond disintegrating—are recurrent strained encounters with Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), the smug older colleague Chris loathes but also needs to court professionally, and the latter’s vacuous young fashion-designer wife Sana (Nicole Marischka). When Gitti and Chris escape this couple by going on a hike, they get hopelessly lost and tempers fray further.
Watching this relationship implode over the course of two full hours is often uncomfortable. But it’s never dull, or less than penetratingly observed. Ade’s actors are so deep into their characters it’s impossible to guess where the screenplay ends and their input begins. It’s an unusually fascinating movie about something very ordinary one usually prefers to avoid in real life—watching the little rifts in a couple’s shared life gradually expand until they become something that will rend them apart.
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