THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET – movie review

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET (Der boden unter den fuessen)
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Screenwriter: Marie Kreutzer
Cast: Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hoerbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Alex Sichrovsky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/19
Opens: July 26, 2019 at New York’s IFC

Though much is made of a woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Austrian-born writer- director Marie Kreutzer—whose debut feature “The Fatherless” deals as does her current film with the effect on a family of the appearance of their sister—covers considerable ground. “The Ground Beneath My Feet” can be looked upon as an anti-capitalist reach, centered on the relationship of a yuppie business consultant with her lunatic half-sister. Most of all it should compel you to consider people who are always dressed to kill, walking about as an iconic image of success, looking you right in the eye with their perfect complexions and well-trained bodies, with remarkable poise, restrained emotion, and perfect grooming, as likely as not to be harboring barely repressed memories and a conflicted wish to rid themselves of some of the responsibilities dragging them down.

Such is the case with Lola (Valerie Pachner), a slim woman who at the age of thirty is already on the way up in a consulting job that may remind you of George Clooney’s profession in “Up in the Air” as a hit-man of sorts helping companies to downsize their personnel in order to show more health in the bottom line. Kreutzer, though, is not as interested as Jason Reitman in comedy, but in a carefully paced drama that might make you realize that you’ve spent too much time in the office. It helps that the film is anchored by a remarkable performance from Valerie Pachner, who was previously seen in “Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden,” about an artist who scandalized Viennese society in the early 20th century with provocative paintings.

Much is made of Lola’s status as a single woman, an orphan with nobody capable of looking after her, though she is the legal guardian of Conny (Pia Hierzegger), her forty-year-old half sister who spends most of the story hospitalized in a Vienna psychiatric institution, clinging to Lola, complaining that she is being kept against her will and is physically punished for not doing what the staff insists that she do.

Life is particularly complicated for Lola given that her work takes her from her native Vienna to the town of Rostock in North Germany, not exactly a backwater but as I recall a picture-perfect town on the Warnow River. Like other executives on the way up, she tries to keep her personal and private lives separate, inventing excuses when she is actually returning to Vienna to see her sister. That’s not all. She is having a lesbian relationship with Elise (Mavie Hoerbiger), her boss, who in one scene are graphically getting it on during a few erotic moments.

So far, whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, but she may have made a mistake in telling her lover about her schizoid sister, as Elise begins to wonder whether mental illness runs in Lola’s family. Climaxes arrive in both Lola’s professional life and her family bonds, as Elise must make a decision on promotions in her staff, and Lola must bear an even greater burden when her sister is released and set up in her own flat. However, in a small scene that would be comical if it did not strike home here in the U.S., a male executive in the firm that has contracted with Lola’s not only hits on her while having steak in an upscale restaurant but tells her flat-out that many males would put their hands under the table and into her thighs but that “I am not like that.” In another small scene that appears to show her political views, when a homeless woman asks for fifty cents and is ignored by Lola, she curses Lola, calls her a “rich woman” and worse, receiving a curt answer from Lola that the woman’s poverty is her own fault.

This is quite the film, mixing business with, well, some pleasure but mostly family heartache, editor Ulrike Kofler taking us back and forth, exposing what some of us in the audience undoubtedly face: how to spread our lives around from our professional duties to our family obligations without suffering at least one nervous breakdown in our lives. The ensemble do a splendid job, some serving like a Greek chorus to serve as background to Lola while a select few, particularly Pia Hierzegger as her loony sister and Mavie Hoerbiger as her immediate superior represent Lola’s family life and business tensions respectively.

In German with English subtitles.

108 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

MADELINE’S MADELINE – movie review

MADELINE’S MADELINE

Oscilloscope
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Josephine Decker
Screenwriter:  Josephine Decker
Cast:  Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 7/10/18
Opens: August 10 in NY; August 17 in L.A.
Poster
Josephine Decker’s latest film is emotionally explosive to such an extent that “Madeline’s Madeline” could be called a stab at expressionism.  Expressionism, which is better known in painting and theater than in the cinema, is the practice of revealing an emotional inner life rather than an objective impression of the world, and has been used most effectively on stage in such works as Elmer Rice’s “The Adding Machine.”  As the taut bundle of inner turmoil, Decker’s “Madeline” is played by a newcomer, Helena Howard), who lets loose with all her inner demons, a role reversal in which she plays her mother, Regina (Miranda July) during a rehearsal by a New York theater group under the direction of Evangeline (Molly Parker).

Decker is in her mystical métier, having made the film “Butter on the Latch,” wherein fantasy plays with reality at a California camp as a camper sings about dragons who entwine themselves in women’s hair and carry them off through the forest, burning the trees as they go.

At base, the film is about the theater director’s use of a mentally ill title figure—seen in the opening when a blurred figure of a nurse talks to the 16-year-old.  Since her prescription for possible schizophrenia has run out, there’s no stopping Madeline from expressing her demons during a rehearsal where she is utilized by director Evangeline as her principal performer.  Madeline uses her own paranoia with touches of anorexia to give her all to the part during the improvisations attempted by the theater group.  Like other members of the troupe, she acts out the part of a turtle.  She also dons pig’s masks as though rehearsing for Greek tragedy.  In the most excoriating scene she gives her mother hell, the middle-aged now single woman having to walk out despite the congratulations that the young actress receives from the director and the troupe.  Her acting is so dramatic—both within the stage rehearsal and in the film itself—that the director invites her home, where she declares to the director’s husband that she is determined on her 17th birthday to lose her virginity.  She makes it fairly clear that the husband George (Curtiss Cook) is her choice to be the lucky guy.

Race plays a role as well.  Madeline’s mother is white; her daughter is black.  At one point the teenager, hearing the mother tell her that the young woman is “different,” wonders whether she is honing in on the girl’s race.  This becomes part of the tension released by the girl in her role reversal, contributing mightily to Madeline’s explosion of theatrical emotion.  Joys of motherhood indeed.  As for the two older women, Evangeline and Regina, particularly involving is the former’s attempts to pull her star student away from her mother’s influence and into her own inner circle.

One would not be surprised if members of the audience, particularly critics, would find Helena Howard’s performance among the great débuts of recent years—which could catapult her into notice by awards organizations voting breakthrough performance at the end of this year.  Nonetheless, “Madeline’s Madeline” is so experimental, so non-linear, with photography often deliberately blurred, that a positive reception by a majority of ordinary film-goers is hardly guaranteed.

Unrated.  93 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+