The Ground Beneath My Feet (4 stars)

The Ground Beneath My Feet

The impact of an exhausting workload is examined in a smart drama from Marie Kreutzer

A punishing work situation finds a parallel in mental illness in this smartly constructed drama from Austrian writer-director Marie Kreutzer. Asking us to consider the price of careers that become all-consuming, The Ground Beneath My Feet lasers in on a workaholic management consultant, whose messy personal life intrudes inconveniently on her obsessive professional focus.

Valerie Pachner (A Hidden Life) is our initially hard to grasp heroine Lola, an impeccably turned out Austrian businesswoman working for a German company. She has carefully compartmentalised her traumatic childhood and its continuing complications as she rises rapidly through the ranks, aided and sometimes annoyingly thwarted by Elise (Mavie Hörbiger), the boss she is secretly sleeping with.

When her schizophrenic older sister Conny (Pia Hierzegger), who raised her for a time and for whom she is now legally responsible, attempts suicide and is recommitted to a psychiatric facility, Lola's worlds collide. She starts receiving phone calls from her apparently sedated and restrained sibling that surely can't have been made. Is Lola suffering from the same genetic condition, or is she working herself into mental decline?

Conny is ruled by seesawing, ugly, unpredictable emotion, whilst Lola is so controlled and efficient that she at times resembles an automaton, working in an industry that pays no heed to human limitations and needs. Her and her colleagues are asked to forgo sleep, outside relationships, downtime, proper nourishment; it's normal to abuse medication in order to continue to function in this abnormal state, while the competitive environment can lead to ruthlessness and paranoia. And, although it seems impossible not to, burning out in this business is viewed as poison to the brand.

If The Ground Beneath My Feet incorporates elements of the psychological thriller as its protagonist loses her grip on reality, it is not wedded to genre tropes. Rather, it's terrifyingly credible in its depiction of the stress and slog of extreme work pressure. With the film's concerns personified by a marvellous Pachner, who gives a clench-jawed, emotional pressure cooker of a performance, it wonders: what have we come to when it's acceptable to sacrifice our sanity for success?

Available to watch on Sky Store, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play and BFI Player from Mon 15 Jun.