“Love is a many splendid thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love.”
– Christian, Moulin Rouge!
Generally speaking, there are four types of love: Eros (erotic), Philia (friends/family), Storge (parents for children), and Agape (for mankind). Love is so complex, however, that it can be broken up further to include Ludus (playful; exciting), Mania (obsessive), Pragma (enduring), and Philautia (self-love). Each of these imply that each of us, regardless of place, time, or position, are worthy of some form of love. The trick, however, is that the way we display that love may not be the way the receiver wants nor how the giver intends. Over the course of approximately 80 minutes, director Katharina Woll explores this specific notion in the dramedy Everybody Wants to be Loved (Alle wollen geliebt warden), screening during Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023. Though not as investigative as American audiences are used to with many a thread left unlitigated, Everybody Wants to be Loved nevertheless resonates because of how real it feels in its depiction of being an imperfect human despite all efforts to the contrary.
Ina (Anna Ratte-Polle) is many things. She’s a professional therapist with her own practice, the mother of a teenage girl (Lea Drinda), partner to a professor (Urs Jucker) with dreams of moving away, and daughter to a woman (Ulrike Willenbacher) whose revisionism gets in the way of a healthy parent-child relationship. All in one day, these things come to a head as Ina tries to appease each one, unable to do so successfully as none feel heard, seen, or honored.
Much of the uncomfortable comedy within Everybody stems from the fact that Woll and co-writer Florian Plumeyer (Bis ans Ende der Nacht) instill everyone but Ina with an absolute lack of self-awareness. To each one, they are the star of the show, the main character, the one being held back by someone else, utterly unaware of the hypocrisy on display. In the middle is Ratte-Polle’s Ina who, by profession, tries to see all sides of a situation, but, by virtue of humanity, is just as likely as the others to make mistakes. The major difference being not just the use of perspective from Woll that follows Ina, but that Ina is the only one who displays any kind of empathy toward any other character. Time and again throughout the film, Ina places her needs aside for the sake of the other characters, each one finding complaints and expressing little (if any) gratitude. Smartly, the script has all of this go down on a big day for each of the characters — Tamara’s 70th birthday (Willenbacher), a Billie Eilish concert for Elli (Drinda), job confirmation for Reto (Jucker), test results for Ina — and all of them bring up or inflame other unresolved issues. This enables the script to keep up a steady pace, allowing each instance of frustration, of selfishness, to be properly established within a reasonable amount of time. It does mean that each of the characters does need to engage with each other as quickly as possible, while also allowing for some sense of them to arise through the performances of the actors. Surprisingly, even with such a short runtime, one does not walk away feeling as though we missed any minute details or that something was shorted; rather, the audience comes to understand exactly why Ina is the center of the tale, why those whom revolve around her behavior as they do, and why each of them should learn to shut their mouths and listen more.
If there’s some aggression in that last line, it’s duly warranted. As crafted by Woll and Plumeyer, these characters don’t realize just how much of the turmoil in their lives is of their own making *or* they know but aren’t ready to face it. Of them all, Ina is the only one who seems capable of internal awareness, not just because she’s a trained therapist, but because someone has to be. That’s a role that requires filling in order for a community to function and that’s the one she fell into. Well before we learn the details of her relationship with her narcissistic mother, by discovering the power struggle between Elli and Reto, each one pitting the other against Ina, it’s immediately established that she’s the one everyone leans upon. Yet, in private, they each ignore, disparage, or otherwise dismiss Ina’s perspective. What could Ina possibly know except when her knowledge suits them or lines up with their thinking? Wisely, the script enables Ina to be imperfect as well, something which Ratte-Polle’s performance establishes as a grounding for the character. Yes, she’s a licensed therapist, but she’s still human, capable of saying the wrong thing, offering passive-aggression instead of truth, or just swallowing the indignities. Ina could be a simple pushover or little more than a foil for the others, but Ratte-Polle gives her a quiet strength that makes the rest seem small by comparison.
The obvious thing to note about Everybody is how true the title is. Everybody does, in some form or another, want to be loved. The trick lies in whether you can find someone who can love you the way that you want. Everyone has a different love language or whose early development laid the groundwork for unhealthy communication patterns. But just because someone *wants* to be loved doesn’t mean that they get to be loved or, more specifically, are owed love. Elli is careless with her mother for the same reason that Tamara is, Ina is locked in a familial construct, one in which Ina’s sense of responsibility is weaponized and used as a tool for their needs. Neither one takes time to consider how their individual respective choices impact Ina. The lesser aspect of the film is that much of it takes place in confined spaces and shots are staged to demonstrate the tightness: Ina’s office or home, Reto’s meeting, even Tamara’s garden party is structured to seem dense. Whether the space actual is compact, the blocking of characters is to imply increased intimacy and tension. It makes sense that the most free Ina looks in the entire film is when she is on her own outdoors, absent confinement, in full reclamation of her independence.
If I may expose myself a bit here, watching Woll’s film was a bit of a struggle. As usually happens when I watch films that explore contention in familial relationships, I was experiencing some of that myself. Despite my best efforts, putting in as much energy as I can to not give my children the same traumas that I experienced, I find myself passing along all new ones. Observing someone, even fictional, striving to offer the best of themselves in each interaction and failing, provided a bit of catharsis in that, just maybe, I’m not such a screw-up. That finding a pathway to providing affection without strings, to offer respect to those I care for as the humans they are, is not something one just does but has to be worked on. In this way, Woll’s Everybody Wanted to be Loved struck an incredible chord as it showed that love requires showing up, putting in the work, and doing one’s best to make amends when failures occur. But, most importantly, it’s ok to acknowledge that one needs to love themselves, too. What could is being pulled in thousands of directions if we haven’t solidified ourselves to be satisfied no matter the result?
Screening during Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023.
For more information, head to the official Zeitgeist Filmproduktion Everybody Wants to be Loved webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews
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