Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2023 8:29 pm 
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Searching for feelings and identity in an unfair cardboard meta-cinema world

The Ordinaries is an oddball and original film about a chaotic, repressive meta-cinema world of filmmaking where we never actually see a finished film. Instead we are enclosed in an Orwellian world - which sometimes feels a little like Blade Runner (and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil has also been mentioned) - in which a hierarchy of film elements, characters, and parts of these seem at war with one another, living with illusions and deceptions. Violations of the rules are ruthlessly enforced but nothing is quite right.

At the top are main characters, below whom are supporting characters. Then there are mere outtakes, misfits defined as "jumpcutters" or the "wrongly cast." . There is a heart gadget that produces sound which the main characters have, but supporting characters don't. At the level of outcasts - we barely see them - are the black and whites. Administrators may digitalize a face into a blur at will; outtakes may, of course, suddenly disappear. Sometimes the screen keeps going dark. This is a movie that doesn't always seem to know where its going but never ceases to be playful. Director-writer Linnenbaum has said that she is seeking to depict our world of "exclusion," but among the menace and "angst," there is always playfulness and cuteness here and Linnenbaum has a gift for chaotic scenes with scrambled characters and objects that look intriguing. In his Screen Daily review Jonathan Romney comments that The Ordinaries comes from a "rarefied conceptual zone" that lies "somewhere between Pirandello and Charlie Kaufman." He also says Linnenbaum shows "ambition and craft on a mightily impressive level."

At the center of the scrambled narrative is Paula Feinmann (Fine Sendel), a busty young woman who may be a supporting character or may be black and white but who's in main character school and is constantly protected and urged on by her mother Elise (the wonderfully sad-sack Jule Böwe), whose constant repetition of the same few lines is a giveaway that she is a supporting character, and a very minor one. Much of the film, which holds it together, is Paula's search for her missing father whom she has never known. Elise insists he was a main character who died and is filed away somewhere, but Paula suspects otherwise and has to find out the truth. Paula gets challenge and reassurance from her better off best friend Hannah (Sira Faal), whose level of main character privedge is shown by their ability to burst into MGM-musical song-and-dance at the drop of a hat.

The Ordinaries feels vaguely familiar and at the same time with its metafictional self-invented details is sui generis and intriguingly strange. The trouble with a film as high concept and unique as this is that much of its run time must be devoted to explaining itself, the peculiar premise, assumptions, and rules of this fabricated world. But there are charmers - some of whom turn nasty - and there are musical interludes - it seems the preferred kind of drama is an upbeat musical. Isn't that what, in some kind of hysterical ideal fantasy world, every family wants to be, a window on the golden age of Hollywood?

But in the end we learn everybody has their secrets; no one lives up to the ideal. The cruel perfectionism has been a distortion of reality. The lower orders need to acquire equality. Plainly in Linnenbaum's world revolution is coming, while in the past there was a major event known as "the massacre." That, like some other details, is never quite worked out. But the fun of The Ordinaries is that it's making itself up as it goes along, and we get to share in the game.

Numerous subversive and species-strange characters come and go whom Paula enlists in her search. One charmer is Simon (Noah Tinwa), a young Outtake Paula connects with who runs a black market trade in bottled sound effects, another Paula's friend Hannah’s family’s cross-dressing, or "Miscast," comically down-at-the-mouth male housemaid Hilde (Henning Peker). Paula's mother has been desperately trying to make ends meet, or hold up the pretense of being somebody. Paula is in Main Character school, preparing for a final exam/recital, which will climax the piece with a speech everyone loves and is moved by - till she shocks them with a series of surprising revelations.

The film's consciously diverse casting, Linnenbaum says in an interview cited in a description of the film in Variety, is meant to show "racism, sexism, classism, etc. are not accidental side effects of our society." But it also conveys the sense that this world is made up of badly misassembled elements, with everyone trying hopelessly to find a place.

The Ordinaries is bristling with raw ideas and may be a fertile field for remakes. Meanwhile We will want to watch to see what comes next from Linnenbaum. Her mix of the high concept and the playful bodes well for future ideas and successes.

The Ordinaries, 120 mins., debuted at Munich, playing at numerous other German festivals and European ones, winding up at SXSW (Austin) Mar. 10, 2023. Screened for this review as part of Berlin & Beyond (Mar. 23-26, 2023) in South Francisco.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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