Master of the Universe: A Gentle and Atmospheric Incursion into Finance, Money and Other Wall Street Gods

On February 13th, The Montreal International Documentary Festival hosted a special presentation of German filmmaker Marc Bauder’s latest effort: Master of the Universe.

Earning the Critics’ Week Award at the 2013 Locarno International Film Festival, Master of the Universe follows the wanderings of Rainer Voss (a former Frankfurt’s top banker) in an abandoned bank as he opens up about the global economy and its impact on the world through details of his life and career.

Contrary to what could pop up in the mind of most North-American citizens, this documentary neither exhibits nor shares any similarity (metaphorically or not) with  the muscle action god-like hero He-Man from the cartoon bearing the same name. In fact, not only does the film not share anything with the cartoon, but the film is diametrically opposite. Those out there looking a fast paced reality shock treatment might be… disappointed.  Bauder’s film is a calm and collected peregrination through a man’s memories of and insights into a world dominated by only one master: profit.

Calm, yes. Boring, not at all.


Master of the Universe, Bauder’s 6th documentary to date, is a perfectly crafted piece of work that successfully grabbed my interest after a few minutes. It kept me, a total outsider to the subject, hooked all the way to the end.

Early ion, the director cleverly establishes the setting of the entire journey we are about to embark on: an empty Frankfurt skyscraper, abandoned six years prior when two major banks merged. From the slow pans in the gigantic lobby to the controlled travelings in the hallways, from the soft voice of the interviewee to the moody and haunting music, Bauder also sets the mood for a quiet but interesting journey through high finance and fraudulent investments. But as complex as this universe may be, viewers need not fear that they need a degree in accounting to understand the content. Bauder’s protagonist has a simple approach to the subject, leaving no one behind.

As we see Voss exploring some of the key rooms of the building, talking about his beginnings and the emergence of computerized banking, I soon realized that the opening scene represents a man’s road down his memories. Voss’s physical exploration plays only a part of the inner one he is going through. Along the way, the soliloquy subtly shifts from personal experience to the banking practice itself and its devastating effects on the world economy. But as  shocking as some revelations might be, the director’s carefully built cocoon always manages to temper the impact it has on the viewer, leaving one more in a state of sadness than anger.

Like the beautiful photography or the derelict bank, Bernhard Fleischmann’s haunting score plays an equal part in that cocoon, creating a semi-dream like atmosphere. Bearing some resemblance to Cliff Martinez’s Solaris, the music accompanies Voss’s tone perfectly. The real achievement in this documentary is how Bauder masterfully ties together all the elements, which taken alone could have been tedious, into a fascinating portrait of a man and an economy.

The only drawback of this journey is the title. It seems to place a strong emphasis on the director ‘s personal opinion. It also might be a lure, with the punchy poster, for the wrong audience.

Bauder’s film is something different in documentary film making, whether you are a stock market insider or a neophyte like me.

Master of the Universe premieres at Cinéma Excentris on February 27th at 8 PM. $11.75/$9.25.