In her extraordinary 2003 debut, The Forest For The Trees, German director Maren Ade charted the emotional breakdown of an idealistic young teacher who leaves her provincial home for the city, but isn’t socially equipped for the transition. Ade sympathizes with her plight, but isn’t given to assigning blame in any direction—while the teacher endures cruelties large and small from her students and contemporaries, she’s culpable, too, in provoking those cruelties with her immaturity and passive-aggression. So what Ade is really examining is bad chemistry, and the emotional fallout that happens when people don’t fit in.
The idea of “fitting in” is embedded in the title of Ade’s equally sharp, uncompromising follow-up film Everyone Else, about a couple struggling for self-definition against bourgeois norms. Other than their looks, enhanced by the lovely backdrop of a working vacation in Sardinia, there’s nothing remotely ingratiating about the couple (or the movie), but plenty of truths to be gleaned from their relationship. Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger are an odd pair in the best of times—she an open, free-spirited, sometimes childish sprite, he a struggling architect who’s charming but distant, a little too cool for school. When they spend a little time with another, more settled couple (Hans-Jochen Wagner and Nicole Marischka), their fundamental differences are thrown into a harsh light.
Everyone Else is the quintessential breakup movie, which means the kindnesses, cute gestures, and happily-ever-afters of a typical screen romance are replaced by pettiness, ugly slights, backbiting, and the kind of hurt that only the most intimate are capable of inflicting on each other. Naturally, it can be unpleasant, and the toughness of Ade’s film is exacerbated by her refusal to apply some cookie-cutter structure to lead this couple more gracefully to the exit. Everyone Else isn’t formless, but Ade gives all this messy dysfunction plenty of room to play out, all while scoring subtle points about the lengths people will (or won’t) go to conform to the expectations of their lovers and their societies. There’s a slight imbalance in how Ade directs our sympathies—Minichmayr is more likeable than Eidinger, whose indecision is matched only by his remoteness and pretension—but Everyone Else unloads a fusillade of truth bombs about those painfully specific moments when communication breaks down and couples start talking past each other. It isn’t pretty to witness, but the pain of it smarts.