Editor’s note: We republish this article from February 2012, as Maren Ade’s new film, Toni Erdmann, premieres in competition at Cannes.
One of the most sublime and insightful romantic films in recent memory, Maren Ade‘s Everyone Else won both Best Director and Actress awards at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. This video looks at one of the film’s key love scenes and explores how two people struggle to express their true feelings when clouded by personal insecurities, which they cloak behind a wall of smart-ass ironic statements. In other words, it’s truly a film for our time.
Kevin B. Lee is Chief Video Essayist at Fandor. He has made over 250 video essays exploring film and media. Follow him on Twitter at @alsolikelife.
Chris and Gitti are vacationing in an Italian villa owned by Chris’ family.
There’s a ceremonial quality to the way Chris turns on the lights to his mother’s bedroom, a white cathedral of kitsch.
Gitti’s arms are crossed because they’ve just had a tense moment, which they will keep having with increasing frequency. But for now, it’s time to make up, in the irreverent language of irony.
Gitti wanted to go to a club, Chris wants to stay in.
Their compromise is to turn his mother’s bedroom into a makeshift disco.
This location has been art directed within an inch of its life, each little porcelain or plastic knickknack speaking to the tastes of Chris’ mother and her generation, which seem both ridiculous and charming through the camera’s eyes.
Chris is at an impasse, stricken by insecurity.
He doesn’t know how to express himself, artistically or romantically, or even ironically to this schmaltzy ’80s pop song. But since there are no real stakes here, and no one watching except for his girlfriend and two ceramic cranes, he gives it a shot. But even at this moment, he’s careful. He doesn’t want to topple the lamps or break the glass cabinet.
So much attention is paid to Chris’ body.
Can you tell that this is the look of a woman director? The dance seems frivolous and sloppy, but it still expresses something
Chris’ long, lanky but formidable frame.
The sexy arch of his ass, collapsing into a fetal crawl, a handsome putty of masculinity, still spineless and shapeless, caught between a man’s receding hairline and a boy’s sheepish slouch.
It’s how Gitti looks at him, attentively and acceptingly.
The shot cuts from one scene to the next, and from one embrace to another.
The camera deliberately focuses on Chris’ body, hiding both their faces.
A sex scene from a woman’s point of view?
A man’s naked back, muscles rippling, taking in the beauty of masculine power and exertion, a small disagreement about how to have sex, a rift of intimacy.
This is a scene of Chris offering his body and not much else.
No risk of a baby, a no-risk future.
For Chris, it’s a scene as much about hiding as it is about love. Hiding behind any possible statement but “I love you.” Hiding behind a detached irony that cuts under words of affection.
But she won’t hide.