Berlinale 2024 review: Every You Every Me (Michael Fetter Nathansky)

“A compelling and oddly romantic but realistic drama about relationships and mental health that draws you in with its original storytelling devices, only to stay for the rich characterizations of its protagonists.”

Films about dysfunctional relationships are easy to come by; most festivals are littered with them. But none quite approach the subject in the way Michael Fetter Nathansky does in his second feature-length film Every You Every Me (though the German title Alle die Du bist, which translates to All That You Are, is conceptually a better fit). Based on a screenplay written by Nathansky as well, Every You Every Me can be a tough nut to crack courtesy of a closed-off protagonist, a fantastic role by Aenne Schwarz for which superlatives fall short. But the film is emotionally well-calibrated and with original angles on Schwarz’s husband (in the film) and the way it shows the process of both falling in and falling out of love side by side, creating an emotional and honest look at living with mental illness.

Nadine (Schwarz), a single mother with no future in the former East German region of Brandenburg, moves to Germany’s coal mining region and gets a job as a factory worker making mining equipment. While her co-worker Ajda (Sara Fazilat) tries to draw her out, the one to really crack her shell is Paul (Carlo Ljubek), an impulsive man prone to panic attacks, but with boyish charm, the silliness of a child, and the carefulness of a patient elder. The two fall in love, get married, and a second daughter is born.

Seven years later Paul is unemployed and desperately trying to find a job, but his anxieties plague him. Nadine, now a foreman and a natural leader of her group of co-workers, is fighting against impending pay-cuts as the coal industry is in a downward spiral. What eats away most at her though is that she is feeling her love for Paul slip through her fingers. She tries her darndest to look at all facets of him to keep the flame burning; the dedicated partner, the devoted parent, the positive extrovert. But loving is hard for her, not just towards Paul but also her eldest daughter Mica. Is she fighting a losing fight?

Nathansky lets these two developments, the rise and fall of a relationship, play out in parallel by cutting back and forth between scenes from the past and the present. The way he distinguishes between the two is as simple as it is effective: the frame slightly narrows every time we move back in time to Nadine and Paul’s budding romance. Given that the actors don’t change much between the two time periods (they only bridge seven years, after all), it is a clever solution to instantly signal to the viewer where we are in the story. What does change in Paul is his representation. While Ljubek plays the lion’s share of the character, at times he is replaced by a child, a young man, and an older woman (and in two instances, a bovine). Each represents a different aspect of his character, or at least how Nadine sees them. The film opens with a sequence of events that ticks off three of these incarnations, and though this confuses the viewer at first, Nathansky structures the scenes in such a way that the concept quickly becomes apparent.

Visually and in mise-en-scene the film keeps it simple, never going for grand gestures or flashy images. The heavy lifting is done by the cast, in particular in the two main roles. Ljubek’s charisma and skill let him easily navigate Paul’s mood swings and panic attacks to create a fully rounded character. Schwarz gives what is one of the first great performances of the year; her Nadine is a brooding, caring, volcanic, exhausted character, and Schwarz covers the whole range convincingly. A scene in which she confesses to Paul that she is falling out of love with him and that she finds it hard to love her eldest daughter is devastating. Here, too, Schwarz eschews grand melodrama, keeping it simple but all the more affecting. She plays the character with a simmering conflict, and there seems to be a trauma from her past that still plagues her and affects these relationships with her husband and her daughters. Every You Every Me never really reveals what this trauma is, but that’s okay. It leaves the rough edges in the character, refusing to wrap everything up neatly and ending on an ambiguous note. Nathansky has crafted a compelling and oddly romantic but realistic drama about relationships and mental health that draws you in with its original storytelling devices, only to stay for the rich characterizations of its protagonists.

Image copyright: Contando Films, Studio Zentral, Network Movie