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By Nick Antosca | September 25, 2009

Maren Ade’s sweet, sad film “Everyone Else” tells the story of a very specific kind of relationship — the kind that works beautifully in isolation but melts into something awkward and trite when exposed to other people. It feels both authentically composed and honestly observed, if that’s not too much of a contradiction.

Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) are an unmarried German couple spending the summer at Chris’s parents’ empty house in Sardinia. We meet them as they’re watching over two young children, but the children turn out to be Chris’s sisters; our thirty-ish protagonists are only playing with the idea of being parents. They’re flirting with the idea in a way that’s more a flirtation with each other — an affirmation of their bond.

Alone in the sunny house, they build a delicate world of private jokes and code words, establish a verbal and non-verbal shorthand of casual affection. Chris is more emotionally conservative and rational — he won’t say “I love you” or have sex without a condom — but Gitti’s unpredictability seems to loosen him up. She’s half-clown, half-gamine.

Minichmayr, as Gitti, is well-cast. Beautiful and ugly at the same time, the actress has a face that seems effortlessly expressive. When Chris ignores her or seems distant, her face crumples and darkens. It’s like watching storm clouds arrive. On the other hand, when we see her quietly trying to reshape her personality into one she thinks will be more to Chris’s liking, you sense how agonizing the effort is despite her steady exterior. The performance is careful and perfectly calibrated.

Chris is less sympathetic, and Eidinger plays him as a bit of a coward, but a recognizable one — a coward everyone has been at one point or another. Alone with Gitti, he can be kind and warm, but in public or with other couples, her rough edges embarrass him.

When they run into Hans, Chris’s more successful former classmate, and Hans’ wife Sana, the fault lines in their relationship really start to groan. Shared jokes that were sweet and silly in private seem mortifying — to Chris — when exposed in the cold light of Hans and Sana’s attention. He squirms, and because he squirms, Gitti suffers. A woman whose lover isn’t proud to be with her is a humiliated woman.

So the relationship swerves and staggers, and I won’t describe where it ends up, except to say that I liked where the film ended up. It’s fifteen minutes too long, but there aren’t any missteps. Maren Ade has a laid-back, almost lackadaisical style, and “Everyone Else” feels breezy, lived-in, and rich. It feels like life.

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