In the vortex of power
by Fabien Lemercier
07/10/2010 - Very much in evidence at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, with Wall Street 2 presented out of competition in Official Selection and Cleveland Vs Wall Street [trailer, film focus] in the Directors’ Fortnight, the world of big banks also serves as a backdrop in German director Christoph Hochhäusler’s The City Below [trailer, film focus], unveiled in the Un Certain Regard. The third feature by the director (who appeared in the same Cannes section in 2005 with Low Profile) chooses the world of capitalism as the setting for a classic tale of destructive amorous attraction between two diametrically opposed characters.
In an exclusive panoramic restaurant at the top of a tower overlooking Frankfurt, four businessmen secretly prepare a takeover that will turn a company into the fifth largest in Europe. Among them is Roland (an impassive Robert Hunger-Bühler), a fifty-something with an iron will who has just been named "banker of the year".
Thirty-something Oliver (Mark Waschke) has been working under his orders for the past two months. His wife, the highly independent Svenja (an outstanding Nicolette Krebitz), is looking for work in the arts sector, without much success, and has been caught out for lying on her CV.
The big banker and the young woman are irresistibly attracted to one another. Prepared to do anything to satisfy his desire and overcome his target’s initial reticence, Roland uses his power to send her husband, an ambitious and naïve executive, on a long-term assignment in Indonesia, a potentially very dangerous trip (a detail carefully hidden from the young man on his departure). But although Svenja quickly succumbs to the mutual attraction, the relationship’s initial imbalance of power suddenly changes sides…
Exploring an instantaneous, almost animal attraction, the hesitations of games of seduction and the hide-and-seek of adulterous love affairs, The City Below also attempts to paint a portrait of the mores of those in the army of financial capitalism: from the constantly adjusted reports at the bottom of the ladder to the art of lying and power games at the top.
Taking advantage of his position, a deeply cynical man seems to almost have the power of life and death over an employee whose wife he steals. But the director’s point of view tips the scales of the plot towards an emotional chaos that will plunge the dominant one into his maelstrom and make him question all his superficial values for the simple love of a woman. This ideological core (fear changes sides) is not the most convincing aspect of a film which straddles broad and intimate stories.