The Ground Beneath My Feet

 

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Paranoia and ambition collide in an absorbingly intelligent drama from Austria. 

 
Groud Beneath My Feet, The

Blonde ambition: Mavie Hörbiger and Valerie Pachner 

 

It’s just as well that Lola Wegenstein is a workaholic. Not since Jessica Chastain’s Miss Sloane has a female protagonist burned the midnight oil with such resolve. Lola regularly pulls a “48”, professional shorthand for working two full days and nights on the trot. But Lola, who seems to have no life outside the workplace, has a secret.

 

A high-powered business consultant who hails from Vienna, Lola is a rare cinematic beast in more ways than one. She wears her emotions lightly, while demons broil beneath her inscrutable veneer. She may even be suffering a nervous breakdown, but the film’s writer-director, Marie Kreutzer, would never be so crass as to underscore the point. This is a drama with such deep, turbulent tides, that they may even pass the casual filmgoer by. With its handsome finish and restrained performances, the film provides a cool, corporate gloss that belies its deeper import. With her striking features and reined-in intelligence, Valerie Pachner recalls an Austrian Cate Blanchett and it’s hard to take one’s eyes off her. She’s barely off-screen, either, hurtling from airport to conference room, juggling schedules and agendas with demonic sleight-of-hand. Only a therapist observes her commitment to physical exercise, made up of early morning runs and frantic workouts in the gym.

 

The Ground Beneath My Feet is also unusual in that its four main characters are all female, although the point is never laboured. Lola presents herself as an orphan – an island without family, children or a significant other. But she has an older sister, Conny (Pia Hierzegger), and is devoted to her. However, Conny is ensconced in another city, hospitalised after a suicide attempt. Working every hour God sends and on the verge of pulling off a well-earned business contract, Lola just cannot be in two places at once. She sees her sister as a threat to her status quo and is reluctant to share the knowledge of Conny’s paranoid schizophrenia. Equally, her sexual relationship with a female colleague, Elise (Mavie Hörbiger) – her professional superior – is off-limits, but never a distraction, either for Lola’s work ethic or for the narrative. The four central characters could equally be male and heterosexual, but the film’s gender balance and naturalistic sexuality is immaterial. Lola just happens to be a lesbian – it’s not a narrative device.

 

A powerful and absorbing character study, The Ground Beneath My Feet refuses to abide by genre, although it toys with the rules, ever so subtly. Lola Wegenstein is a fully-fledged character and one invests in her because she is so real, and so strong. When the cracks do start to appear, it is almost unbearable to watch. Marie Kreutzer never begs for our attention with tricksy cinematography, but keeps a firm control of her agile camera. Likewise, Kyrre Kvam's score is almost imperceptible, a virtually invisible nudge in the right direction. One hates to say it, but Kreutzer’s film must be commended for putting its feminine agenda centre stage and then daring not to emphasise it. The film works just fine as a gripping study of mental health in a world still not ready to accept it as tolerable.

 

Original title: Der Boden unter den Füßen.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hörbiger, Michelle Barthel.

 

Dir Marie Kreutzer, Pro Alexander Glehr and Franz Novotny, Screenplay Marie Kreutzer, Ph Leena Koppe, Pro Des Martin Reiter, Ed Ulrike Kofler, Music Kyrre Kvam, Costumes Monika Buttinger.

 

Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion-Lightbulb Film Distribution.

108 mins. Austria. 2019. Rel: 15 June 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.