by Ryland Walker Knight
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.]