Sophie Linnenbaum on a World Less Than Ordinary in Her Debut Film The Ordinaries

Sophie Linnenbaum’s feature film The Ordinaries is set in an imagined dystopia where the world is a film set and three strata of society emerge: Main Characters, Supporting Characters, and Outtakes. A young woman named Paula (Fin Sendel) is the daughter of a seemingly deceased Main Character and a Supporting Character and is studying to be a Main Character. She finds her world turned upside down when she discovers that perhaps she is not who she thought she was and journeys through Storyland to find a dark truth about how her world operates.

The Ordinaries is distributed by Bounty Films and opens in select Australian cinemas in early July.

The Ordinaries | 720p Web Trailer | Bounty Films from Leslie Morris on Vimeo.

Nadine Whitney: The Ordinaries is a stunning debut. It feels familiar yet is utterly unique. Can you tell me a little about how you got the film into production?

Sophie Linnenbaum: We started creating the cinematic meta-universe with all its loving references and analogies during the writing process with Michael Fetter Nathansky, but it grew and refined later in collaboration with the art department and the whole team. Our guiding compass throughout was the world’s emotional depth and its functionality, which steered us in our quest for cinematic translations. To construct a world that felt intuitively logical and enjoyable, we sought out images and narrative elements that resonated as cultural common knowledge. For instance, everyone can relate to kisses in the rain, impassioned monologues that rally crowds, and the exaggerated emotions expressed through dance by main characters.

NW: In The Ordinaries Storyland is a space that is filled film references but is also a literal meta film set where all the characters function in a hierarchy based on their popularity as characters. It is also a political film. What made you think of merging these ideas into a fantasy dystopia?

SL: At the core of constructing The Ordinaries lies a pivotal inquiry: “How do we narrate our stories, and about whom do we choose to narrate?” It delves into the notion of who is deemed worthy of being recognised as an individual and how specific groups are moulded by the narratives that surround them.

We opted for the filmic metaverse as a means to address these inquiries about narratives and visibility because it inherently mirrors the very questions it seeks to explore. As a medium, film revolves around narratives and provides an opportunity to reconstruct familiar patterns of exclusion on various levels. Just like our society, film operates through narratives. In the process of exclusion, certain groups are denied the agency to present themselves and are often defined solely by the narratives crafted by others. By consciously turning our attention to and scrutinizing these mechanisms that shape and manipulate our perspectives, we endeavour to contribute to this narrative and assume the role of storytellers ourselves. Narratives not only recount reality, but they also possess the power to shape it significantly.

Exclusion, and the mechanisms behind it, is the central theme. By transferring it into a fictional world, we tried to detach ourselves from the purely emotional level in order to reveal the mechanisms behind discrimination and their deep roots in our system more clearly. In doing so, we invented new descriptions of supposed otherness, but also wove in traditional and familiar mechanisms of exclusion.

Our filmic-metaverse talks about structures of power and imaginative norms. It’s the old question of “us” and “them”, but in this world the so called “others” are defined by filmic traits. Our society is a perpetuum mobile that with the ones above, that “need” the ones outside for economic exploitation. And they also always need the ones in between, those who hope to rise and fear to fall – they legitimise this toxic structures. They fight – or gave up fighting long ago – about the sovereignty of narratives, about the power over their own individual storyline and how it is perceived.

NW: The design of The Ordinaries is retro futuristic. Storyland is both now and not now. What made you choose specific elements to highlight?

SL: We chose the style of the 50s and 60s as a reference because for us this period is associated with ideal images and stereotypes within a conservative society. On the surface, this era projects an illusion of perfection, masking the underlying oppression and discrimination inherent in this conservative society. This duality is also evident in the grand Hollywood productions of that time, where everything appears glamorous and flawless, as well as in fashion. Also, the movies of this time, have burned themselves into our collective memory, so they provide a perfect basis for playful cinematic quotes and stereotypes, while portraying the higher status of the main characters.

The Outtakes served as a contrasting counterpart to the main characters. Here it was important for us to find an appealing visual realisation without glamourising their poverty. Between these two worlds we installed the buffer zone of supporting characters. The familiar grey mass every suppressing system needs – adapted, silent, compliant. We worked on how to visualise the boundaries between the three classes, the social intransience that must be overt for some classes and almost invisible for others.

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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