Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scenes from a Vacation

Director Maren Ade's Everyone Else (2009) is a very good movie about very unlikeable people. It's one of those intimate portraits of a couple whose relationship is deteriorating moment to moment. It's exquisitely acted. For her part, Maren Ade doesn't intrude much with visual style. She mainly frames the film as a vantage point for watching its characters interact. It's an effective way to work.

The story here follows Chris and Gitti, marvelously played by Lars Eidinger and Birgit Minichmayr, as they vacation at Chris's parent's house in Italy. Chris is an architect; he's a weak man who is failing at his job and who is too timid to give Gitti what she needs. Gitti, for her part, is trying to fit herself into a relationship role that doesn't suit her. They're contrasted in the film by Hans and Sana, a couple of Chris's acquittance who have a seemingly perfect relationship. Hans is successful, Sana is pregnant and adores her husband. They're an impossible standard of comparison, and Gitti knows it. The comparison is made during two impossibly awkward dinner parties, in which everyone's flaws are laid bare. Eventually, Gitti comes to the same conclusion that the audience reaches early: Chris isn't particularly admirable. By the end of the movie, she professes that she no longer loves him, though the movie is by no means as cut and dry as that. It doesn't go where a more conventional drama would go.

The film is liberally appointed with uncomfortable scenes, from an embarrassing rendition of Willie Nelson's "For All the Girls I've Loved" to a picnic where Gitti has overstuffed her rucksack to the point where she can't haul it back to the final scene in which she feigns insensibility. For the most part, these mark the film as one that is not intended as "entertainment," whatever that may be. It's a film that is endured more than enjoyed. It's fascinating, though. The scene that hooked me is near the beginning, in which Chris's niece acts out her dislike of Gitti, so Gitti teaches her the proper way to hate someone: Tell them you hate them, mean it, and shoot them. It's charming, but it's emotionally charged, too. The film has interesting things to say about relationship dynamics, particularly in matters of dominance. Hans and Sana are happy and confident, sure, but Sana has entirely subsumed herself into her marriage. While that may work for them, it will never work for Gitti and Chris because Gitti is too much herself and Chris is too weak to dominate anyone. The failure of their relationship is a problem of negotiation over how much and how little they heed each other and how much each of then needs to give to the other.

This is a sun splashed movie. This is the kind of movie that Bergman used to make, but instead of Sweden's austere winter light, you get a kind of sun-dazed torpor. It's a harsh sun, too, in which the light illuminates everything as the characters open each other up.


DeAnna said...

We just watched this last night. Very interesting film and like you, I was drawn in by the opening scene with Gitti and the little girl. Nice review, but how did you get screen captures from each of the most perfect scenes.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

As I recall, I took the pics from the film's press kit.