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BERLIN 2019 Competition

Review: The Ground beneath My Feet

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- BERLIN 2019: In her new feature, Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer presents a sober portrait of several women all captured in a modern, competitive social construct

Review: The Ground beneath My Feet
Valerie Pachner and Pia Hierzegger in The Ground beneath My Feet

The competition of the 69th Berlinale (7-17 February) makes room for a strong female presence with Marie Kreutzer’s social drama The Ground beneath My Feet [+see also:
trailer
interview: Marie Kreutzer
film profile
]
, which narrates a very personal tale of woe. The movie paints the portrait of Lola (Valerie Pachner), a young and ambitious woman who works very long hours as a high-level business advisor. She barely spends any time at all in her flat in Vienna, since she is often travelling and therefore stays in hotels most of the time. Her work routine revolves around statistics and sweet-talking clients, usually men, to whom she presents the perfect façade. Her only intimate relationship seems to be an affair with her superior, Elise (Mavie Hörbiger), another apparently impeccable, attractive and dynamic businesswoman.

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One morning, when Lola gets a phone call from a psychiatric clinic in Vienna, telling her that her older sister has been hospitalised, the ground beneath her feet literally begins to shake. However, as the story unfolds, the viewer comes to realise that an apparently more insignificant event from the past could have brought her to this point, since Lola’s entire psychological framework is built upon very unstable ground. Her biggest fear is that her sister Conny’s (Pia Hierzegger) mental illness might be heritable and may therefore affect her, too. And she is even more terrified by the possibility that others may judge her for it and view it as some kind of shortcoming.

Kreutzer deals with several important topics, such as mental illness and its status in society, as well as the right of women to pursue their career by being just as reckless as men supposedly are – and the feeling of isolation that can arise as a result. The character of Lola, played convincingly by German actress Valerie Pachner, is able to convey strong emotions in an understated manner, radiating both severity and vulnerability. The film relies on her performance, which is without a doubt its biggest strength. The static camera underlines the sterile environment that Lola lives in: we see her apartment, which lacks any personal items and is dominated by naked, white walls; the offices, which function only as temporary workplaces with a few essential items of stationery; the hotel rooms; and, finally, the clinic where she visits her sister. In The Ground beneath My Feet, Kreutzer opts for a sober aesthetic, which establishes a considerable distance between the protagonists and the audience.

The relationship between the sisters, their codependency and Lola’s wish, but inability, to save her sibling constitute the strongest parts of the movie, even though a deeper insight into these areas would have been preferable. Beyond that, the film lacks a more concise vision, and consequently, The Ground beneath My Feet seems overloaded and bulky. Female homosexuality and sexual harassment, two very important subjects, are also idly tossed into the ring, missing out on the chance to be part of a relevant debate. There is a half-hearted attempt to inject a hint of irony into the plot in regard to the clinic and its inhabitants, but this is something of a missed opportunity, as it is not followed up on. Nevertheless, overall, this is a respectable attempt to trace out the destiny of a character who is clearly lost – a story that will surely be relatable for many people.

The Ground beneath My Feet, a production by Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion in co-production with ORF Film/Fernseh-Abkommen, is being sold overseas by Picture Tree International.

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