Paula has big dreams: she wants to be a main character! No secondary character like her mother, who just darts through the picture for a moment or dutifully recites her one sentence. She wants to be like her missing father. Every story revolved around him! In addition, Paula goes to the school for main characters, she is the best in her class in “Panic Screaming”. The other emotions aren’t quite working out yet, as you can see from the fact that Paula has problems creating the appropriate film music with the device that was placed over her heart.
She doesn’t have any “significant highlights or cliffhangers” either, but she’s determined not to sit like her mother in a prefab building in a colorless apartment and keep mumbling the same sentences to herself. She sees how beautiful life as a main character can be in the family of her best friend, who lives in a kind of baroque palace villa and has so many emotions that they almost only communicate with each other in short musical interludes, like in an old Disney -Movie.
Sounds weird? Sophie Linnenbaum probably thought the same thing when she was working on her feature film debut “The Ordinaries” at the Film University Babelsberg. What if movie characters suddenly developed an awareness that they are movie characters – trapped in an unfair system of attention, screen time, close-ups, and favorable lighting for very few? Shouldn’t there be a slap and a stab for the main character’s status, and deep resentment from those who are denied it? The cinematic as an intensified metaphor of existence, if you will.
First of all, that’s a pretty brilliant idea. And actually so obvious that one wonders why in more than 100 years of film history someone hasn’t gone in this direction more often – spontaneously one only thinks of the characters in Woody Allen’s “Purple Rose of Cairo”, who scold annoyed, than one of them jumps off the screen and the others can no longer continue playing. In any case, “The Ordinaries” is full of clever and funny ideas in which movie theater about themselves – and in the best moments also something about our own, not exactly fair, hierarchically clocked lives.
The “asynchronous ones” are badly off, where the sound no longer fits the picture
So there are a lot of people in Paula’s film world who have been sorted out. These fringe figures meet in a wood-panelled bar with a low ceiling – such as the “black and white”, the “doubles” and the “asynchronous”, in which the sound no longer fits the picture. There is no longer any use for them in this dystopian world. But they are still better off than those who no longer exist. They are not assumed to be in the afterlife or underground, but “between the cuts”.
This can be read as a political commentary on everything, not least on the conventions of Hollywood cinema, which has become so familiar to viewers with its hierarchical narrative style and limited repertoire of emotions that other types of film are no longer imaginable for many are. One notices one’s own irritation when Linnenbaum’s Movie for example, makes the cuts properly visible.
The police in their film world do not shoot with bullets, but with film cuts that briefly interrupt what is happening. This is very annoying for the viewer, but has an interesting effect. Because suddenly you pay attention again to what actually happens when the films are cut. And by the way, the question is raised as to whether films always have to be funny, exciting, scary or beautiful. Why not get annoying?
“The Ordinaries” asks such questions – but then does not pursue them consistently. Much remains to be established and asserted. So, when Paula sets out to find her missing father, the film naturally also trusts the established patterns that it actually criticizes. Sure, if the concept had been implemented more consistently, “The Ordinaries” would have been an experimental film. Through its concessions to a broad audience, the film undermines its own premise.
It’s also possible that some things were simplified during the editing – the film police seem to have raged badly in some scenes. And Paula, played by Fine Sendel with the deepest teenage melancholy, is never entirely believed in her problem. Constantly in the picture, always well lit, lots of close-ups – she should have noticed that something is happening to her that is incompatible with the status of a supporting character.
The Ordinaries, Germany 2022 – Director: Sophie Linnenbaum. Book: Linnenbaum, Michael Fetter Nathansky. Camera: Valentin Selmke. With: Fine Sendel, Jule Böwe, Henning Peker. Port-au-Prince. 120 minutes. Theatrical release: March 30, 2023.