“THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET” (“Der Boden Unter den Fusen”)— In the Workplace

“THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET” (“Der Boden Unter den Fusen”)

In the Workplace

Amos Lassen

Lola Wegenstein (Valerie Pachner) has had a complicated history. She is an orphan and has suffered traumas in her childhood; sent to a foster home and having an elder sister that is in her care now. She puts up a very strong appearance, hiding psychological issues, needing affection, thinking about the childhood and dealing with a very demanding job.

Lola’s sister, Conny (Pia Hierzegger)has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is unpredictable, strange and upsetting. Lola takes care of her sister, but not in the way the Connie wants. Conny talks about moving out of the institution where she is supervised and where she imagines that the others are stealing from her. She believes is in danger and now  Lola has to get another place.

Lola is in a shaky relationship with Elise (Mavie Hörbiger), who is her boss and this complicates matters since the two women work together. The sex scenes between them are intense even though they are very short and there is little nudity. Eroticism is suggested instead of being exposed. Lola is often insecure and sometimes unstable, overwhelmed by the heavy demands of her job. When a client who is unaware of Lola’s sexual orientation or that she is abusive and a chauvinist, wants to have drinks with her at the bar, after they have lunch with another partner in the company, the consultant explains that they will maintain 85% of their workforce, people from her firm would come on sight to deal with issues, only she seems not to be one of those on the list, to the regret of the man who says her that he is sexually interested in her.

At another point, one of Lola’s colleagues makes her sign a sheet with wrong figures and that causes a confrontation with Elise, who speaks about the fact that others have started to talk about ‘burn out’. After this, Lola follows the man who cheated and placed her in a terrible position so that he has the advantage.

The man flashes his penis and says that this is the advantage he has thus confirming one of the themes of the film— the idea that men take advantage of the old privileges, the ascendancy they still have over women, in today’s world. Lola is close to a breaking point, she seems to imagine a call from her sister. She thinks she hears Conny on the phone, mentioning that she is naked and she can see her, causing her to run out of a hotel on the street to find Conny who must have escaped supervision. However, when she calls the place where Conny is being taken care of she is told that her sister is a sleep and did not use the phone.

Since it is really impossible to show the life of a corporate executive is impossible to sincerity onscreen we are left a bit in the dark.  Lola is disassociated from the world around her. She prioritizes her career at all costs, and begins to lose her grip on reality as a result of it.  We do not know if it is fatigue from the 48 hour days she’s been working, or if is it a hereditary mental illness beginning to come to her years after it took a hold on her sister. Director Kreutzer refrains from giving an easy answer and the story is  ambiguous.  

Lola’s job largely consists of meeting with high profile clients and suggesting which employees they fire to save money. She practically lives in anonymous hotel rooms, using the few free moments she allows herself outside of work to either exercise intensely, or pursue a secret affair with boss Elise and  even when she’s just having sex, it somehow is connected to her all-consuming day job. Lola and her older sister Conny have no parents, and Elise is Lola’s legal guardian, but now the tables have turned, and Lola is Elise’s guardian – a role she tries to avoid confronting as much as she can.

The first half hour of the film made me think that this  is a  capitalist satire where selfish professionalism is more important than the lives of those whose jobs are at stake. But that film is cleverer than that, forcing the audience into a false sense of security only to reveal that it has been chipping away at Lola’s demeanor. The phone call sequence, roughly half an hour in, initially feels like it came out of the blue before we see that it just might be a crack in the realist sheen.

The most overtly damning critique of business consultant culture is unspoken; the contrasts between Lola’s anonymous hotel suites and business meetings, and the colorless surroundings of Conny’s temporary home show that both sisters are imprisoned in one way or another.  What we see is an exploration of the emotional toll on women in the male dominated world of business.

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