5 November 2011

THE ROBBER / DER RAUBER (Dir. Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010, Germany/Austria)

The Robber is a German/Austrian thriller which is already being prepared for a re-make by Hollywood. What this means is that once again audiences are likely to ever know that an original and much better film existed before Hollywood got their hands on to it. Based on a true story, Johann Rettenberger is a marathon athlete who is released from prison. Johann uses his speed to begin robbing banks and the chance of being caught makes it an addictive experience for him. Director Benjamin Heisenberg shrouds Johann's past in a cloak of relative darkness that is maintained throughout the episodic narrative. Johann's cryptic nature and refusal to explain his actions recalls the elliptically charged characters of Bresson's most austere films. The muted visual style including a stripped down mise en scene creates a deadening impression of contemporary Austrian society. The film excels in the final third in which Johann escapes from police custody initiating a dramatically staged chase sequence. The Robber is a sombre character study but Johann's predictable and nihilist trajectory makes the overall experience way too detached for us to care for anyone. This is a film which one could easily position under the category of existential cinema, and Heisenberg's technical control over the material is impressive. American director Michael Mann would arguably be a perfect candidate for the re-make as Johann is an anti-hero fixated with death, time and professionalism.

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