Open Season (Jagdzeit)

Switzerland (2020) Dir. Sabine Boss

“Humanism has always been old fashioned”

You’ve heard all the sayings:  “There’s no room for sentiment in business”, “To succeed in business you have to ruthless”, etc. and it seems to be true. For every decent person trying to thrive, there are a dozen opportunists ready to crush them to get on.

Alexander Maier (Stefan Kurt) is the hard working, loyal, and perfectionist Chief Financial Officer for the Swiss HQ of the international car company Walser. But with profits taking a downturn in the face of a rapidly changing world, drastic measures are required to survive, and company President Marc Walser (Pierre Siegenthaler) hire a new CEO Hans-Werner Brockman (Ulrich Tukur).

Brockman’s no nonsense style of management ruffles many feathers but Maier holds his own and the two are able to work together in steering the company back into good fortunes. However, a split occurs when Maier supports a new fuel-efficient engine whilst Brockman wants to take the company public which Maier believes is too risky. The directors have to choose who to back and Brockman is determined not to lose to Maier.

Swiss director Sabine Boss is not familiar to me but if Open Season is any evidence, she is someone who knows what she is doing when it comes to spinning a tightly wound parable about modern day morality, or lack therefore. Her target in this instance, corporate business, may not be original but the story offers a different slant from the usual tale of top-level corruption and greed.

Told inside 90 minutes, the pace never lets up and finds room to shine a light on life outside the offices and boardrooms for Maier, though exposition regarding exact details on this is limited. It might mean functional, tropey support characters but they are used when necessary and not just because, allowing the main story to remain the primary focus as it should.

However, the two principals are initially painted in broad strokes – Maier is a respected member of the management team, and a perfectionist – he can spot a mistake or typing error in one millisecond. A reliable pillar of the company, the cost is his family life, sharing custody of his hockey playing teenage son Theo (Sean Douglas) with ex-wife Jeanne (Anna Tenta).

Conversely, Brockman arrives from Germany with a bit of a reputation and despite the usual “we’re in this together” platitudes, has the ominous smile of a wolf about to bite his own cub’s head off. Keen to exploit Maier’s astuteness and get him onside, Brockman gives Maier a copy of Hagakure by Tsunemoto Yamamoto, a spiritual guide for samurai, which becomes influential in an unexpected way.

We know this new bromance isn’t going to last though. Maier’s first mistake was to trust Brockman, though it is possible that Brockman had already sussed out Maier even before he was able to talk him round about supporting the new engine. With the need to save money paramount, Brockman wants to jettison the entire development department so Maier is called upon to buy them some time to get the project up and running.

Unfortunately, even when it works, Brockman is only thinking of profit and his alternate suggestion is to buy out two other companies to become the business leader, but that means spending money they having got. His solution of going public to raise the funds which Maier and everyone else thinks is suicidal, prompts Maier to do some digging and discover a few unpleasant skeletons in Brockman’s business closet.

But while one man is trying not to hurt anyone, the other has already drawn blood. To frame both men as opposites, they share an interest in hunting but Maier uses a virtual simulation at home whereas Brockman prefers the real thing. When they go on a shoot, Maier is given blank cartridges to appease his non-killing stance, but not without an added jibe of his pacification being a smear against his masculinity.

Another scene stands out in reflecting Maier’s realisation of his compromised principles – when camping with Theo and feeding bread to some ducks, a swan comes long and takes the bread; Maier reacts angrily, yelling that the bread was not for the swan. Hardly subtle but fresh in execution when Boss could have gone for the heavy handed approach of using a child or homeless person to make the same point.

It all makes for a compelling game of survival of the fittest when a united front should be trying to achieve the same goal, but there will always be one who sees everything as a power play against them. The result is rock bottom being hit following an unnecessary sacrifice, and shockwaves are felt beyond the characters on the screen, but had the film run for maybe ten or twenty minutes longer, the message behind this startling crescendo just might have felt more like an atom bomb going off.

Not that Boss doesn’t strike and emotional and shaming chord with this denouement but it comes too quickly after 85 minutes of taut build-up. The closing shot is the pinnacle moment in pricking the empty conscience of corporate mentality without a single word being spoken, so kudos to Boss for taking this stance with such bravado, precision, and conviction.

Showing similar substance in tackling their roles are Stefan Kurt and Ulrich Tukur, two sides of the same coin but one has a nasty scar on it. Kurt deftly captures a sense of humanist dignity in Maier, portraying him as a man unaware that the thing he lives for is the thing that will destroy him. Veteran Tukur shows no self-awareness in essaying Brockman as the smiling assassin he is, hence the convincing and effective performance.

Open Season could have been made about any industry where power, influence, and money are the only things that matter. A robust and provocative film, it just needed a bit more bite, otherwise very much worth a watch.

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