Directed by Maren Ade. Starring Birgit Minichmayr, Lars Eidinger, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Nicole Marischka, Carina N. Wiese. (2009, NR, 119 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 10, 2010
At first glance, not much appears to be going on with the German couple at the heart of Ade's intimate portrait of a normal relationship teetering on the jagged peaks of passive aggression and self-doubt. Chris (Eidinger) and Gitti (Minichmayr) make an odd yet attractive pair; he's a bookish architect given to lengthy silences, and she's a quirky pixie who does PR for a (unseen) band derisively dubbed the Shames. Vacationing on the coast of Sardinia, they spend their sun-drenched days and balmy nights at a family villa where they're both free to make doe eyes at each other and, occasionally, go for the throat by way of the heart. Early on, lazing by the pool, Gitti applies rouge to Chris’ face while he wonders aloud if she'd prefer him as a woman or, perhaps, more masculine. "Do something manly and I'll let you know," is her mildly catty reply. It's apparent from the start that Chris, awash in idealistic creativity and the sort of banked anxieties that would drive anyone screaming up an olive tree, is the heavy here, but halfway through you realize the pitch is fairly even. When Gitti opens up to him – we have no idea how long they've been a couple, but it feels as though this painful pas de deux has been going on for some time – about moving in together, he shuts down while she ramps up. Later, a coincidental meeting with one of Chris' artistic (and better-off) rivals (the bearish Wagner) leads to Gitti acting out, which leads to more sullen silences from her beau and, ultimately, a return to "normal." But Ade and her perfect cast seem to be asking: What is "normal," anyway? These two genuinely seem a perfect match when they're not gently slicing each other to pieces, and it's blazingly obvious that – spats or no spats – they're deeply wrapped up in what looks like true love, although a barbed and disjointed sort. They're in their own little bubble apart from "everyone else," and while he appears to desire a more bourgeois existence, she's the flightier of the two. This romance isn't a sunshine-dappled meadow, it's a thicket of thorny rosebushes atop a rocky precipice. Both actors are alarmingly natural in their roles and Ade's direction is a model of subtly shifting tones and tempers. If you haven't been in this relationship, then you surely know someone who has: Chris and Gitti are as recognizably human as a glance in the morning mirror, and just as strangely distorted.