The Ground Beneath My Feet is a tragic, not always well calibrated family story that merely superficially investigates a relationship that is much more multifaceted and complex than it may initially seem to be.
If a director like the young Marie Kreutzer is already at home at the Berlinale (in 2011 she presented her debut feature, The Fatherless, in the Panorama section), one expects a lot from a work that has even been selected for the official competition. Yet, her The Ground beneath my Feet (original title: Der Boden unter den Füßen), premiered at the 69th Berlin Film Festival (and, subsequently, as the opening film at the Diagonale 2019), turned out to be, effectively, in spite of the interesting initial ideas, a rather disappointing work. While the theme that the director from Graz has decided to stage is by no means obvious (especially as regards the paranormal implications given to the film), more than one narrative solution has made the work quite problematic.
Wishing, therefore, to stage the topical – and often bypassed – issue of work-related stress, Marie Kreutzer has told us the story of Lola (Valerie Pachner), a 30-year-old career woman who divides her life between Vienna – her home town – and abroad, without caring much about her private life. At least until she receives a phone call from a Viennese clinic informing her that her sister Conny (Pia Hierzegger), who has always suffered from mental problems, has just attempted suicide.
The difficulty in managing human relationships and, above all, the fear of not being able to protect her loved ones will slowly lead the protagonist to a nervous breakdown. But, of course, there’ s more.
Between one mysterious phone call from a hidden number and another, between a misguided love affair and a relationship that has been neglected for too long, The Ground beneath my Feet develops tediously – and in a dangerously redundant and repetitive way – until the end, when a logical and perfectly appropriate solution is replaced by banal and uninspiring twists. Marie Kreutzer seems, since the first minutes, not at all at ease with what she wants to stage, taking now one way and now another, without ever pursuing one of them in an exhaustive way.
While the mysterious phone calls – with their psychological thriller overtones – seem to gain in appeal as significant moments are shown, suddenly this approach is inexplicably abandoned, making the whole thing a simple, poorly-calibrated family story that merely superficially investigates a relationship that is much more multifaceted and complex than it may initially seem.
The final result is a weak and even not very credible film, in which even two good performers such as Valerie Pachner and Pia Hierzegger (here particularly poorly employed in such a potentially interesting role) are not enhanced as they deserve due to an excessively stereotyped script. The Lola and Conny of The Ground beneath my Feet fail, despite the director’s efforts, to reach the viewer. And if, faced with such a tormented and complicated family relationship, one immediately thinks of how such situations are portrayed by countryman Michael Haneke, one misses even more a strong and convincing screenplay.
The situation is all the more serious if, as in this case, the film in question has been selected to compete for the prestigious Golden Bear. But this, of course, is another matter.
Original title: Der Boden unter den Fuessen
Directed by: Marie Kreutzer
Country/year: Austria / 2019
Running time: 108’
Cast: Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hoerbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Markus Schleinzer
Screenplay: Marie Kreutzer
Cinematography: Leena Koppe
Produced by: Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion, Picture Tree International