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KARLOVY VARY 2022 Competition

Review: The Ordinaries

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- In her feature debut, Sophie Linnenbaum explores the societal divide through the lens of a movie set

Review: The Ordinaries
Fine Sendel (left) and Denise M'Baye in The Ordinaries

Making a living as a person with no specific identity, established name or purpose – what might sound like the burden of life is literally the sole existential purpose of the protagonists of Sophie Linnenbaum’s feature debut, The Ordinaries [+see also:
trailer
interview: Sophie Linnenbaum
film profile
]
. Ordinary people in the cinematic background – not glossy main characters or superheroes – are her point of interest. The film has had its world premiere in the Crystal Globe Competition at the 56th Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

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Like in her previous short films Out of Frame and PIX, Linnenbaum once again establishes an outlook on the world through a universe, in which the cinematic jargon has become a living environment. Like a higher God above, her characters are existing for the entertainment of an unknown viewer. Their lives are determined by a personal "musical score," "cuts" and "monologues." The inhabitants are divided into main characters, side characters and the lowest ranks, film mistakes, miscasts, and even worse, outtakes. As protagonist Paula (Fine Sendel), a side character aspiring to become a protagonist, explains, their shiny world is constantly disrupted by these forces who attack its perfect storyline. Her father, a "very important main character," was killed in a past uprising.

His legacy is what kicks off Paula's journey to finding herself and questioning the hierarchy, the cinematic system, or the Institute, as the governing body is called. Stumbling in and out of the grand musical sequences, vividly shot by DoP Valentin Selmke in a heartwarming homage to old Hollywood, her best friend Hannah (Sira Faal) and her family, even these colourful, idealistic main characters can’t help her to figure out what happened to her father and why there is no record of him. To pass the main character exam at school, she wants to connect to his memory and watch "flashbacks" of his run as a main character.

The miscast maid Hilde (Henning Peker), however, puts her on the right track to check not the archive on main characters, the only ones worth documenting and remembering in this increasingly dystopian La La Land, but "the other list." Could her father actually have been an outtake that was cut from the film? And what would that mean for Paula and her place in this world?

Unleashing a series of references, visual homages and nerdy film jokes unto the viewers, Linnenbaum's debut has a lot of fun in creating a parallel universe, in which our fondest film memories and cliches serve a deeper, darker purpose of retraining our gaze. The bland side character, the too-perfect main one, get revalued. The idea that everyone can be important, unlike the social hierarchies of this cinematic world and reality, is repeatedly brought to the forefront. It is easy to read a certain media critique into Linnenbaum's narrative, that deals with the idea of only being special due to status and exposure, while also examining the idea of being unique, special and able to achieve anything by default, a notion that is widely known as the "Millennial crux." The Ordinaries makes the point that it is about telling one's own story to the right people.

This simple message is amplified by the societal parallels Linnenbaum not so subtlety packs into her story. Outtakes being relegated to the back of a bus, the main characters' fear of being "replaced" all ring too familiar with real-life historical events and movements. The '50s- and '60s-inspired outfits evoke the feel of a bygone era, in which the movie star business was big and discrimination even bigger. Linnenbaum draws attention to these problems. She does not, however, present a universal answer. There is no big revolution in the making. Maybe just a hint of food for thought. Ideas that get a bit too undermined, however, by wrapping them up in an almost too conforming finale.

The Ordinaries is a German production staged by Bandenfilm, ZDF and Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf. Its international sales are overseen by The Match Factory.

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