Maren Ade’s sophomore effort opens with Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), an attractive but confrontational woman in the Gena Rowlands vein, urging a shy girl to own up to her veiled dislike of Gitti by screaming it in Gitti’s face. The moment skirts deftly between hilarity and unease; it’s the first of a series of masterfully choreographed pas de deux between emotional honesty and cold decorum.
The child’s bewilderment over how to act and feel metastasizes in Gitti, who’s feeling a strain with her boyfriend Chris (Lars Eidinger), a gifted but insecure architect. On a working vacation in the Italian countryside, Chris frets over his career and artistic vision, both flagging. Gitti tries to cheer him with goofy antics and vows of unconditional support, which drive him further away. With the precision of a surgeon and the grace of a dancer, Ade traces in their dissolving relationship the invisible lines that distinguish affection from annoyance, private joys from public embarrassments. The arrival of Chris’s blowhard colleague Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner, sort of the asshole intellectual version of Seth Rogen), with his cocksure swagger and well-behaved wife Sana (Nicole Marischka) in tow, leads to a series of conversations that have the effect of razor blades slicing into Chris’s private loathing of himself and Gitti. Ultimately it’s Gitti who takes matters into her own hands, entering a feverish endgame of berserk behavior, a stunning nervous breakdown-cum-performance art both strange and believable.
Ade has an intense affinity for authentic, natural moments of interpersonal disintegration that’s miles above that other 2009 festival movie about love on the rocks. It’s the anti-Antichrist. Not only is Everyone Else an instant contender for the pantheon of breakup movies, its manifold splendors evoke entire periods of great cinema. Its playful slapstick and eruptions of regressive childishness between its leads are worthy of ’30s Hollywood screwball. Ade’s instinct for awkward silences, combined with the way Bernhard Keller’s camera emphasizes people within the spaces they occupy, coveys temporal and spatial alienation up there with an earlier generation of European modernist love stories: Voyage to Italy, L’Avventura, and Contempt. And then of course there’s Cassavetes with the celebration of spontaneous expressive kookiness.
Ultimately, through her hyper-attention to people, spaces, and moments, Ade achieves something that stands apart from any predecessor—though, ironically, it has much to do with how two members of a generation attempt to define themselves, as individuals and as a couple, in a landscape of cultural clichés and institutions. Two key scenes take place in the attic of an Italian villa owned by Chris’s mother, which houses a treasure trove of kitschy artifacts and a CD player loaded with ’80s schmaltz-pop. In the first scene, Chris and Gitti use this setting to stage a mock seduction that imperceptibly lifts from campy to sublime. In the second scene, Chris lets his colleague and trophy wife lay waste to the place, filling it with the stench of their class snobbery while destroying the delicate memories of the previous moment. Minichmayr’s shell-shocked posture as she watches the scene makes it one of most harrowing betrayals in recent memory. Enough can’t be said about Minichmayr and Eidinger for rising to the challenge of Ade’s precision of gesture in expressing ungainly emotions.
Judging from this and Ade’s impressive debut, The Forest for the Trees, we’re looking at a cinema of filigree: a celebration of the personal and the private, as well as the difficulty of maintaining that intimacy when bourgeois respectability threatens to gentrify one’s uniqueness. But what Ade has already proven, whether in grungy DV in Forest and gorgeous 35mm in Everyone Else, is that the things that are beautiful and interesting about people are less what’s on the surface than what’s within and between them, and never settled. As with the jaw-dropping finale of Forest, Everyone Else pushes its conceit of beauty’s private nature to an audacious brink, resubmitting Gitti and Chris’s seemingly dead relationship to one more moment of truth. It’s a heroic gesture and another sign of this movie’s specialness, that it offers the hope that one final fart joke might save a dead romance.