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'Master of the Universe': Film Review

Master of the Universe - H 2014
Courtesy of Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion

The Bottom Line

Meditative, glossy doc provides some glimpses behind the curtain but isn't terribly enlightening.

Opens

Friday, June 6 (Anthology Film Archives)

Director

Marc Bauder

A German banker muses on life at the top levels of finance.

Marc Bauder gets an insider's take on a world that most of us only understand a shred of, despite its massive impact on our lives, in Master of the Universe. Spending time with a retired German banker who lived through the heady transformation of his country's financial system and was well rewarded for it, he gets not a comprehensive picture of modern banking but many pointed and intimate takes on its inner workings. The unusual perspective and a smart sense of aesthetics will help the film with patient viewers, but the film lacks a breadth or edge that might win over the general-interest audience.

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Plump and perhaps somewhat self-regarding, banker Rainer Voss is never introduced to us, but we soon understand he was quite an important person in his world. He recalls starting his career around the time his country was deregulating in the 1980s, when Americans with strange suspenders were coming over to explain the strange financial instruments he'd then craft and sell for decades.

They were "godlike creatures," he recalls, sitting in what could be an abandoned Olympus: The interviews are conducted in empty rooms atop a skyscraper -- boardrooms and trading floors that were abandoned when one bank swallowed another some years ago. Borres Weiffenbach's camera travels through them and, more hypnotically, glides past the vast glass towers surrounding this building; we see other office workers from afar, isolated in sterile offices, but (with the exception of one or two directorial prompts) Voss' is the only voice we hear.

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His soliloquies range from half-candid, half-veiled talk of familial sacrifice; to confirmations of the ways bankers' lives grow disconnected from the world they affect; to stories of his rapid leaps in pay and prestige; to technical details many viewers won't follow. He's good at finding examples of how interconnected institutions are, with any given lawsuit or scandal likely involving multiple banks, but for most of the film it's hard to guess how he feels about all this. Only late in the doc does he hint at regret over what he has participated in -- a position, one assumes, that he might not have arrived at if he hadn't been nudged out of his perch because he was getting too old.

Production company: Bauderfilm

Director-Screenwriter: Marc Bauder

Producers: Marc Bauder, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Markus Glaser, Michael Kitzberger, Wolfgang Widerhofer

Executive producers: Gunter Hanfgarn

Director of photography: Borres Weiffenbach

Editors: Rune Schweitzer, Hansjorg Weissbrich

Music: Bernhard Fleischmann

No rating, 88 minutes