Review: Everyone Else (2009)


Everyone Else belongs to a long line of romantic dramas that consist of little more than two characters in love auditing their relationship through several conversations over a short span of time. Like Journey to Italy or Before Midnight, it doesn’t have much of a plot and its pleasures are not strictly formal. Not much happens in a macro sense, but a lot happens in a micro, personal sense between the two lovers at the film’s centre, in this case, Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger), who are on vacation together on Sardinia. The visual style is loose and unrefined, pro forma for the European arthouse character drama of the 2000s. And yet, despite the familiarity of the style and the content, Maren Ade’s Everyone Else stands out for how perceptive it is about the two characters and the kinds of people they are.

Ade’s second film, Everyone Else, came out years before she became an arthouse sensation when Toni Erdmann played the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. But the same generous approach to character is present. For instance, Ade delves into the character’s unsavoury aspects, whether Chris’s whininess or Gitti’s irritating immaturity. But she never lets these foibles overshadow her affection for the characters, which comes out in the way her camera lingers on their faces and in how scenes run long enough to let the characters exist with no real narrative purpose.

The arc of the film mostly has to do with Gitti and Chris’s relationship with another couple, Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and Sana (Nicole Marischka), who are also vacationing on the island. It’s a classic compare and contrast, both between Gitti and Chris and Sana and Hans as couples, and Chris and Hans as fellow architects and professional rivals. Hans and Sana are interesting only in as much as they shed light on Chris and Gitti. For instance, an argument after a dinner barbeque is more important for what precipitates it (Hans revealing that Chris didn’t tell Gitti about an important job opportunity) than the argument itself (Gitti taking issue with Hans’ pretentiousness).

Everything comes back to Gitti and Chris’s relationship, which is allowed a vibrancy and fullness that a film with a broader focus than Everyone Else wouldn’t allow. We watch Chris and Gitti argue with each other and make love, standard elements of romances on screen, but we also watch as Chris takes Gitti on a punishing hike through the hills, or as Gitti annoys Chris while he’s trying to read, or as Chris declines to go out to a club and then dances goofilly through a curiously designed room of the house they’re staying at (Chris’s mother’s vacation home). These moments are not essential to the plot in any way, nor are they particularly exciting or novel. However, they are honest and allow us to observe their relationship in many different scenarios, allowing for as complete a picture of a relationship as you can get on film.

It’s possible that Ade could convey the same amount of insight into her characters in fewer and shorter scenes, but that’s not the style she’s working in. The laxity of her pace and the loose handheld camerawork allow her to simply watch the characters, letting the performances dictate the rhythm and editing. Of course, with a work this loose, it’s sometimes hard to determine where the direction comes into play. Since the film is all about performance and character, it stands to reason that the script (also written by Ade) and the actors have the greatest impact on the film’s effect, but directing is often a negative action in addition to a positive one. It’s as much about what you don’t film as what you do, where you don’t cut as where you do cut.

With her unwillingness to intrude on her characters, Ade demonstrates a directorial modesty that is admirable, and her ability to let scenes play out at length sometimes allows for nice character insights. However, this same relaxed approach can border on indulgence when scenes repeat themselves or digressions occur, such as several scenes of Gitti fretting over a new “suburban” dress she buys and of her wearing and not wearing it, putting it on and taking it off. Ade’s propensity to let intimate moments run to extreme length is not as pronounced here as it would become in Toni Erdmann, but the seeds for that film’s bloat are planted here.

But as I said in the first paragraph, Everyone Else understands its characters in a way few films do. It makes profound observations through the dialogue, which is often cutting, especially when Gitti punctures Chris’s male egotism, which is vulnerable only as a means of dominating focus away from his partner. It also uses repetitive imagery and scenarios to underscore essential truths about the characters. For instance, the beginning of the film has Chris and Gitti caring for Chris’s niece and nephew; Chris is calm with the baby, but Gitti cannot handle the little girl hating her company and reverts to playacting to try to curry favour. The end of the film circles back to this opening scene, with Gitti again reverting to childish make belief to make a point about her inability to approach life problems as an adult.

At a key moment in the film, Gitti says that she “would like to be different sometimes.” It’s a banal observation about her dissatisfaction with herself, one that any single person on the planet could make, but coming when it does in the film, it has an impact specific to her character that it wouldn’t have if the film had paid less attention to her. Everyone Else may play with familiar themes, narrative, and style, but it makes the familiar poignant through its depth of character.

7 out of 10

Everyone Else (2009, Germany)

Written and directed by Maren Ade; starring Birgit Minichmayr, Lars Eidinger, Nicole Marischka, Hans-Jochen Wagner.