If you’ve been reading the film pages of L.A. Weekly regularly this year, this won’t be the first time you’ve heard about director Maren Ade’s Everyone Else. Reporting from the Berlin Film Festival, where Ade’s sophomore feature — about a young German couple on vacation in Sardinia — had its world premiere, I praised the relationship drama as the standout of the Berlinale competition, adding that its deceptively simple portrait of lovers in crisis came “close to feeling like a defining portrait of an entire upper-middle-class generation.” More recently, weighing in on the film’s showing at the New York Film Festival, Philippe Garnier was similarly effusive, writing that Ade’s effort does “for the 21st-century couple what Polanski’s Knife in the Water or Antonioni’s L’Avventura were doing in the ’60s.”
We’re not the only fans. In Berlin, the Tilda Swinton–led jury awarded two Silver Bears to Everyone Else — one for Ade and one for lead actress Birgit Minichmayr. Yet, as of this writing, the movie remains without U.S. distribution, making its single AFI Fest screening one of the festival’s indisputable must-sees.
“I wanted to make a film about all the details of a relationship, all the things you can’t really explain to someone,” the petite 32-year-old Ade told me during her recent visit to New York. “If their friends ask them, ‘Oh, how was it in Sardinia?’ they could never describe what happened there. Also, I wanted to make a film about the secret world you have together with someone in a relationship — the chaos that you are together. Because of that, I really focused from the beginning on being as specific as possible.”
Those details shine through in the behaviors and, especially, the uncannily honest dialogue Ade wrote for her two main characters — Chris (Lars Eidinger), a promising architect, and his girlfriend, Gitti (the extraordinary Minichmayr), a music publicist — as they spend the summer in the sun, pushing each other’s buttons, watching their relationship variously bloom and wither. Both relentlessly compare themselves to friends and acquaintances — specifically, to Chris’ fellow architect, Hans, and Hans’ fashion-designer wife, Sana, whom they encounter on their holiday. “Sometimes, I want so badly to be different for you,” the punkish Gitti tells Chris one night, wondering if perhaps she should try to be more glamorous, more Sana-like to please him. Meanwhile, he is wrestling with feelings of creative failure, and the even greater fear of becoming a faceless member of the bourgeoisie (like his unseen parents, whose Sardinian cottage is awash in kitsch trinkets and 1980s easy-listening pop).
“I was very much interested in that exchange of power between Gitti and Chris, and I wanted it to start because of insecurity and not just because he wants to be dominant or whatever,” says Ade, who screened Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage for her actors during rehearsals to help put them in the mood. She also thought a lot about gender roles in 21st-century relationships, contrasting Gitti’s tomboyishness against Chris’ own innate feelings of emasculation. In one scene, Gitti invites Chris to “do something masculine” and see if she notices; later, perhaps responding to her challenge, he leaves her far behind during an arduous afternoon hike. “I wanted to tell something about a relationship where male and female are not defined clearly anymore,” Ade explains. “On one side, Gitti is very strong and always pushes Chris to say mean things to her — she always wants to find out the truth. But when it happens, she gets hurt a lot. I felt that there’s sometimes still a longing to clear these things up, like, ‘You’re the man, I’m the woman.’ Maybe it’s easier that way.”
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Born in Karlsruhe, Ade developed a passion for filmmaking as a teenager, then studied at the Munich Film School, where she switched her emphasis from producing to directing. In 2003, she released her debut feature, the video-shot The Forest for the Trees, which followed the darkly comic odyssey of a socially awkward high school teacher trying to keep the peace in her classroom, as well as make friends outside it upon arriving in a new town. Like Everyone Else, it too had a strong feeling for the inner lives of characters who feel somehow adrift between who they are and who they think they should be. “Maybe the next one will again be about something like that — a horror movie!” Ade jokes.
I ask her about the criticism, leveled by some detractors of Everyone Else, that the film’s characters are too self-absorbed or, even worse, not likable enough. “This likable or unlikable thing ... even when you give the script to someone, it’s always” — she adopts a whiny child’s voice — “‘but I don’t like the characters.’ And this is something I don’t think about at all. I like it when you don’t have to like a character.”
Perhaps, I suggest, it’s something of a generational divide, noting that the two times I have seen Ade’s film, it seemed to play best with audiences younger than 40. “Sometimes, [older] people will say, ‘Ah, I can remember that very strongly,’ and then they like the film,” she says. “Or they say, ‘I’m so happy that this is not my problem,’ and then I realize, ‘Ah, okay, things change.’ Men forget more than women, so among older audiences, the film works better for women.”
Everyone Else screens at the Mann Chinese 6 on Fri., Oct. 30 at 9:30 p.m.