Don't let the warmth of the Sardinian sun, the caress of Mediterranean breezes, or the languor of oft-entwined limbs fool you. Chris and Gitti, the bronzing young lovers on holiday in "Everyone Else," are headed for some dark and depressing times.
Writer/director Maren Ade, one of German cinema's smart new voices, has tossed this tantalizing pair into that phase between falling in love and commitment, when the sex is still hot but a truer self is coming out of hiding -- teasing, taunting, surprising, disappointing. The result is a film that unsettles as often as it seduces, though it does very well with both.
Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger as Gitti and Chris are easy to believe, easier still to identify with as they navigate the rocky shoals of a newly minted relationship. And therein lies the rub. So authentic is the ego bruising that it gets increasingly difficult to watch the couple let happiness slip away.
They are an opposites-attract case: Gitti, a tomboyish beauty always ready to mix it up, and Chris, a struggling architect more refined and more worried about success than his jeans and bare feet let on. A few days off and a free stay at Chris' family cottage have brought them to the island.
The couple has been lulled into believing that everything is great between them and Ade wants to get the rest of us there quickly. The film opens on what seems to be domestic bliss -- Chris stretched out on a couch, a baby asleep on his lap, Gitti making a treat with a 4-year-old in the kitchen nearby. But Ade is a sly one and we quickly learn that the children belong to Chris' sister, who is soon out the door with her brood, with trouble heading in before the door can swing shut.
In this second feature -- her first, "The Forest for the Trees," won the special jury award at Sundance in 2005 -- Ade takes a deep breath after that fast start as she sets about peeling back the layers to expose an uncongealed inner core. Though there is bare and very beautiful skin to distract, it is the emotional soul of these characters she is most interested in. Themes of love, self, gender roles and class skip like pebbles across the lake. But the waters prove surprisingly deep.
At first Gitti and Chris play at love like children, silly games as they lounge poolside or meander through the sun-drenched streets. The arrival of Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and Sana (Nicole Marischka) as the ideal sets things on edge. Flaws and fissures are so much easier to ignore when there is no mirror at hand. But here it is, the stark contrast of Hans, a successful documentary maker, and Sana, a high-end clothing designer, staring them down -- cultured, mannered, married, clearly in love and now expecting -- perfection, or close enough.
In the presence of that success, Gitti's frankness, which Chris used to find charming, becomes embarrassing, and she becomes defensive in turn. The fracturing begins in earnest, as does our descent along with them into a thickening gloom of frustration, doubt, need and regret. Though the sun and the Mediterranean remain radiant, emotions turn dark and there is no comfort to be found.
Eidinger and Minichmayr are an excellent mismatch, with Minichmayr in particular bringing a brilliant mix of moxie and vulnerability to Gitti. Whether a new attitude or a new dress, nothing is an easy fit, and that struggle with self-definition has already earned the actress the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, where the film won the Grand Jury prize as well. Ade proves facile at using small moments to subtly ratchet up the couple's growing discord -- setting the table for a dinner with Hans and Sana, a chance encounter in town turning them suddenly into strangers. It is with the bigger moments -- drama pushed to unnecessary extremes -- that the filmmaker stumbles.
Though Sardinia turns out not to be the vacation anyone expected, the payoff is in the stack of questions Ade leaves behind. How lovely to have something to actually contemplate when the lights come up. Of course you should still pack the Prozac.
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