Saturday, April 24, 2010

SFIFF53 #2: Everyone Else

by Ryland Walker Knight

Look at me

Nothing's sounder: Birgit Minichmayr won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at Berlinale 2009 for her performance in Maren Ade's Everyone Else. Ade's film works because of the performances of both lovers acting out in different and not quite complimentary ways. But Minichmayr uses her body to go with her face and her voice to make her Gitti not come alive—it's a film of presence, or immanence, so "becoming" never happens, though the story does chart a sort of trajectory towards understanding—so much as, well, feel like a real person. Or, you get a sense of everything inside and behind her without a mention of any history (of old lovers, of youth) or much explaining. Everything registers on the surface—on her body, in her gestures—even her defenses, her silent treatments.

It's really hard to talk and/or write about this kind of acting or this kind of direction of acting, you just sense it; it's an energy or a verve you pick up on or not. But it's not an affect since this is not a film of faces; or if it is an affect its not made into images the way, say, Cassavetes could because Ade mutes things the way Cassavetes always amplified things. Nor is it really a film of bodies, though it is a film of actions and, again, gestures. It's a recording, primarily, with a few ideas about the fluidity of form and off-camera space. Its best, laugh-out-loud joke about spatial awareness (or lack thereof) dictating character is filmed like it happens, like an accident, without grace over a shoulder. It's pragmatic filmmaking, the camera in service of its subjects and largely free of anything like a style or a tic-trait or a tripod. Its duty is just to be there.

All Ade seems to want is to watch these people (these young people) amble about in the sun. For the lighting, either that amber of the Sardinian sun or the indigo of a bedroom at night, is the most interesting thing about the images. The sex scenes, for example, are hardly lit and shot in one take without close ups; not exactly the "sexy" stuff of, say, Bad Timing, though its intimacy is not without its sexiness. Or that room with the knick knacks registers just white, its pale walls and shelves another way to say this mom's passions aren't passions but filler, time-killers; this extends to her music collection, which is aptly trite; but it should be noted that nothing in this room is played for laughs. In fact, for all its jokes and on-screen laughter, nothing's truly played for laughs. Not that laughs are necessary, but it makes all the goofy stuff look a put-on, like these people can never remove a mask. And that's the brilliance of Minichmayr's performance (and I supposed Ade's direction): to give the feeling of layers, or intentions never voiced nor exactly seen.

After a prologue that shows Gitti already acting out, or only ever acting, though she's also giving directions on how to act to a young girl, things start happy enough. It's a vacation, the sun shines and they barely wear clothes. But that erodes just as soon as can happen (and how can it not happen?) as its stories' wonts. So as things get said, other things are left unsaid, and fissures begin. New masks grow, and Minichmayr stops sitting with her legs open, starts crossing her arms more. The couple stops embracing as much, they walk apart; interaction is forced. The relationship doesn't crumble or implode so much as evaporate, or dry up, which is seen in reverse as the deal breaker is when Gitti gets tossed fully clothed into a pool after a disaster of a dinner party. Minichmayr exits the pool cutting her eyes across it, tugging at her clinging dress, and inside she doesn't dry off. Instead she jumps out a window. Where it goes from there should be no surprise, but its limp-limbed finale may clamp you enough that the last line jolts some hope into your mainline. After all, it's about something truly cinematic though it's shot, again, like an accident over a shoulder or two: it's a plea to be seen.

[Already released in New York City by IFC,
Everyone Else plays SFIFF three times, all at the Kabuki: Sun, Apr 25 at 8:45pm; Tue, Apr 27 at 3:30pm; Thu, Apr 29 at 6:15pm.]


  1. I really want to see this. I loved The Forest for the Trees, and am so curious to delve into more of Ade's work. This one in particular sounds as though it'll be wonderful, and your superb write-up here has me all the more curious.

  2. Drew, I think _Forest_ may be "better" but this one's got a lot of subtle performance stuff (and a few more genuine laughs) that the first film doesn't have; I'm hoping she makes another movie and actually makes some images. In any case, thanks for reading and for the compliment.

  3. I noticed that the relationship began to disintegrate when other people come into their lives. It's almost as if they were fine in their little paradise alone. Note at one point she says something about eating an apple [or something Adam and Eve - like]. I don't recall when exactly she says it but it is either when they go to dinner with the married couple. Although it could have been prior to the hike.

  4. Matt, thanks for the comment. The outside world is definitely the catalyst. As if any other audience will only ever corrupt the haven (yes, there's a lot of "Eden" ideas) of love. Or this love.

  5. I just got back from it. I think it's a great deal more nuanced than Forest for the Trees. I think you really need to look no further than the ending which is sort of a re-do of the previous film's ending which is detached from the rest of the film and stylistically incongruous, just a metaphor as an addendum to give some sort of closure. Here the same situation is sort of recreated, a retreat from the troubles of her life, only stylistically fitting and not hermetically sealed, able to be pierced by other characters in the film. When this bubble is finally pierced, rather than offering closure as in the previous film it offers an ambiguity, untying the knots that had previously been tied (supposedly - if someone really uses their brain they'll know that no statements in the heat of the moment are final, but people tend to take the film's final word as enduring). In this case the final word's meaning is ambiguous, so the previous issue is irrelevant.

    That was supposed to detail how much more nuanced I think the film is as a whole by detailing a single part. Hopefully it worked so that I don't have to expand. That would require so much... effort.