KVIFF 2022: ‘The Ordinaries’ is a Clever Fable of Social Revolution
by Alex Billington
July 15, 2022
What kind of character are you in society? Are you a main character, or just a supporting character? Maybe you haven’t even been cast in any role yet? Where do you fit in? What even is your “role” and can you change it? These are just of few of the questions that might come to mind when watching this funky, clever, strange, intriguing German film titled The Ordinaries (also known as simply Subtext for its release in Europe). The film had its world premiere at the 2022 Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechia, a perfect place for for this quirky, one-of-a-kind film to premiere, as it’s not the kind of film most mainstream audiences will have any interest in. Only those that love cinema, and love stories about cinema (and how it all works), and love films that make you think and figure them out, will appreciate this. That said, I still think it’s an ingenious and captivating film about breaking out of your “role” in society and becoming whoever it is you want to be.
Directed by German filmmaker Sophie Linnenbaum, and co-written by Linnenbaum and Michael Fetter Nathansky, the film takes place within the world of a movie acting as our real world. The concept utilizes archetypes as the actual characters in a very witty way. The world is centered around “Main Characters”, who represent the top tier of the social class. They’re supported by, of course, “Supporting Characters” and background characters that have somewhat of an important role, but don’t do much for society except keep everything in order for the “Main Characters”. Finally, at the bottom of the social strata are the “Outtakes” as they’re known – any number of various flawed people, broken or outdated characters, or anything else. This includes miscast characters, those that cause scenes to skip or jump ahead, black & white characters, those without voices, etc. They introduce this concept and run with it as far as they possibly can – building a narrative around an Outtakes revolution and a Main Character who learns she isn’t really a Main Character.
It’s rather hard to describe in a review, but that’s not a flaw with the film. It’s impressive how well thought out and intricately crafted the script is, throwing in every possible idea based on this concept that they can think of. There’s even a scene where they go to an Outtakes camp and one of them is burning script pages. If you’re a bright enough viewer to pick up on and understand this premise, it’s rather fun to get into the world and go along with the story. Fine Sendel stars as Paula, who is studying at the “Main Character” school to learn Emotions that she can properly express in her Scenes. As the film plays out, not only does she befriend and come to understand the plight of the Outtakes, but she discovers she’s not who she thought she was, and this sends her into a spiral drifting around this archetypal world. Ultimately the film’s commentary is about how we “other” people into derogatory castes, using flaws and differences that we’ve normalized as a way of separating society into social classes. How dare anyone interrupt Main Characters! It is their story, after all.
But is it really? That seems to be the point of The Ordinaries. Not everyone is going to be as perfect and as flawless as Main Characters, especially the ones we see in movies. (They always look good and seem to be able to figure out everything and live the best lives.) But that doesn’t mean anyone deserves to be relegated to some bottom rung social class primarily to make sure they don’t disturb or interrupt the stories the Main Characters are living. They want that control, they want to main that dominance, and they’re going to fight for it at any cost. I’m almost always a fan of films that cleverly utilize archetypes and metaphorical concepts to comment on how broken and backwards society is. As strange as this film may seem at first, and as kooky and amusing as it is to watch at times, it’s a serious story about how we really must stop segregating people because of their differences. Perhaps we can only achieve this with a revolution rising from the bottom up.
As impressive as the script is, the film has a few flaws itself that keep it from reaching a revolutionary level of success on its own. The filmmaking can be a bit confusing at times, and it feels purposefully drab in a way that makes it a bit uninteresting. That said, I found myself caught up in this concept and the story, excited by the revolutionary undertones, that I can’t help praise this film and recommend it anyway. Will anyone watch it? I don’t know. Will it change anyone’s minds? Probably not. Nonetheless, it’s so clever and curious, and so smart and perceptive, that it deserves to be seen and discussed – by anyone who can get their hands on it. Maybe it will be encouraging and inspiring for some to see social classes envisioned in this cinematic way. Maybe it will be a relief for others to see a film that treats everyone’s differences as our advantages and quirks, not flaws. Even if we’re not all Main Characters, we still have an important role to play in the world.