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Review: The Driven Ones


- Piet Baumgartner’s documentary follows five budding, young CEOs trying to achieve success at supersonic missile speed

Review: The Driven Ones

For seven years, Zurich-born director Piet Baumgartner followed a group of five students on the prestigious Master in “Strategy and International Management” course, offered by the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. His debut feature film, The Driven Ones, has now been presented in a world premiere within the Zurich Film Festival’s Focus competition. From the first year of their studies through to their first steps in the world of work, punctuated by breathtaking success but also bitter disappointments, Piet Baumgartner scrutinises his protagonists, trying to understand the driving force behind their actions. Primed for success, high on adrenaline and bursting with egocentrism, Feifei, Sara, Tobia, Frederic and David belong to the world elite which “makes the economy go round”, fuelled by caviar and handfuls of bitter pills which are as bad for the heart as for the mind.

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Hiding behind prestigious diplomas, rich and demanding families, and nigh-on unattainable ideals, the film’s five protagonists open up to the camera as if on a psychologist’s couch. As the only moment of “rest” in a never-ending day, their time with the camera becomes a real opportunity for self-examination. Despite their different backgrounds, aims and values, Feifei, Sara, Tobia, Frederic and David share the same obsession: immediate success. Devoid of voice-overs (a choice we can only commend), the film looks far beyond the seeming perfection of their lives to understand what’s really going on with them. What does a life of sacrifice, of days without sleep and of permanent stress lead to in the long-term? Is it really possible to maintain such a pace, repressing emotions and smothering our “weaknesses” in the name of success (whatever that means)?

What Baumgartner depicts is the almost imperceptible yet continual crumbling of a social mask, in favour of a sensitivity which is increasingly hard to contain. Their self-confidence may seem unshakeable, but the director’s constant scrutiny of his protagonists reveals cracks we might otherwise not see. Unable to express their feelings and lacking the vocabulary required to voice their emotions, Feifei, Sara, Tobia, Frederic and David are like little goldfish trapped in a bowl of their own making. As such, it’s in the rare moments when they allow themselves downtime and which the director is quick to capture - Feifei playing piano in the local underground bar which the university uses for ancillary activities, or Sara relaxing in her parents’ garden – that their individual personalities, humanity and vulnerability shine through.

Gender, ethnic background and class aside, the five protagonists embody a virile ideal which we can’t help but call into question nowadays. Ultimately, The Driven Ones shows us just how polarised our society now is between those still attached to success at all costs and those who couldn’t care less.

Precise, nigh-on clinical but also light and ethereal, Piet Baumgartner’s debut feature film helps us to look behind the scenes of an elitist world, dangerously navigating between success and total collapse. 

The Driven Ones is produced by Catpics, SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, RTS Radio Télévision Suisse and Norddeutscher Rundfunk. Autlook Filmsales are handling international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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