Breaking up is always hard to do. There’s no denying. Especially in cinema, where filmmakers throughout film history have dedicated their craft to unravel the enigma of human relationships and the conflicted emotions attached to that slippery, elusive thing called love. We have seen great films centred around this subject matter – Woody Allen’s superlative Annie Hall, Ingmar Bergman’s devastating Scenes from a Marriage, Jean Luc-Godard’s provocative Le Mépris and Charlie Kaufman-penned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to give a few examples. Consider this Scandinavian relationship drama Everyone Else as a rather welcome addition to the panoply of insightful, incisive and unapologetically truthful break-up movies ever made. Here, instead of charting an entire timeline of boy-meets girl convention, writer and director Marden Ade sidesteps narrative pretentiousness and instead draws a gruellingly authentic, introspective portrait of a relationship on the rocks that provides no easy answers, justifications nor tidy conclusions.
The approach is very European – Everyone Else takes a two-hour glimpse into the lives of a German couple holidaying in a Sardinian villa, the indecisive, professionally unfulfilled architect Chris and the impulsive, self-deprecating bohemian Gitti, without resolving to flashbacks and chronological quirks. It’s a straightforward observation of the interplay between these two characters, where nothing really much happens except the little things that makes companionship worthy, and sometimes unbearable. What starts as a seductive, sun-kissed vacation turns into a warzone of details, a battle of these two sexes portrayed not through dramatic fireworks such as in Lars von Trier’s grief-stricken couple in Antichrist or in Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road but through subtle interactions, wordless resentments and quiet betrayals. This is a film where even a mere exchange of glances can bear profound meanings, a film where affection suddenly disintegrates into misguided, if trivial, loathing with each other. The genius of Ade’s direction and writing is seen through how Chris and Gitti both love and repel each other, and how they both react when their romance is placed under the scrutiny of outsiders, of everyone else. As soon as another couple enters the frame, a boorishly arrogant neighbour, a more established architect, Hans and his wife, artist Sana, the seismic shift in Chris and Gitti’s connection is almost palpable without every becoming literal. In a scene where Chris shows the interlopers the intricately ornate upstairs room, where earlier on he shared a wonderful moment with Gitti to the tune of a syrupy pop song, this romantic ennui has reached its breaking point without being spelt out for you. It’s all there in Ade’s use of spacious framing, using the distance between Chris and Gitti, symbolically suggesting the ever growing lack of understanding or compassion between this mismatched couple.
That said, it takes one with an inch of a brain to actually appreciate Everyone Else. It’s slow-burning, microscopic in details and symbolic in its approach. It barely gives away what these characters really feel, but it demands you to look deeper into the façade, behind every gesture, behind every unspoken reprieve. It’s remarkable how these two actors, Lars Endinger and Birgit Minichmayr as Chris and Gitti respectively, manages to be so naturalistic, so convincing with each other’s nuances, without condemning these characters to just a mere ‘arsehole’ or ‘bitch’ prototypes. Through the quiet power of these two performances, the film compels you to distinguish the differences between these two people, what separates them and what brings them together that in the end, as Ade’s thesis might be, we somehow comprehend that individuality, aside from communication and compromise, fuels the fires of the best of relationships and that love, no matter how indefinite, uncertain or elusive, must not be dictated by the outside world or by ‘everyone else’.
Everyone Else casts an excruciatingly surgical look into the complexity of modern relationships, yet never without its truths, compassion and deep understanding of the humans involved in this relationship-on-the-rocks drama. Watch with patience and with open mind and heart, you might learn something from this Scandinavian gem.