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The Robber -- Film Review

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Adapted from a novel which was itself based on a true story, "The Robber" (Der Rauber), the second film from German director Benjamin Heisenberg (his first feature, "The Sleepers," premiered at Cannes in 2005), provides plenty of adrenaline-stoked action even though its plot, paradoxically, is a tour-de-force of minimalist deliberation.

Unfortunately, most of the action is of a man running, either for fun or for his life. The details of the city of Vienna, and the surrounding countryside through which he runs, are sharply rendered, but the utter precision of the filmmaking, while a pleasure, fails to fully satisfy. Ultimately, most audiences will be left scratching their heads, wanting to know more about why this man, Hans Rettenberg, does what he does. Hence, commercial prospects for this otherwise extremely well-crafted film do not look very good.

We first meet Hans as he is being released from prison, where he has been serving a sentence for robbing banks. He's been a model prisoner, completely absorbed in his training as a runner, and he is sternly lectured by his parole officer to stick to the straight and narrow if he wants to avoid a return visit. Moments after his release, he robs several banks in a row.
Why?, we reasonably wonder. He then runs the Vienna marathon as an amateur, breaking the local record.
 

The rest of the film details, in a sober and simple manner, his obsessive training and the various criminal escapades upon which he embarks. He has no friends and never goes out. Eventually he ends up staying with a woman who seems to be a childhood friend, and they become intimate. Ultra brief flashbacks to what is perhaps his childhood are tantalizingly quoted, but nothing is ever explained, and no back story is ever forthcoming. Director Heisenberg's principle seems to be that less is way more than more.

A popular mode of contemporary cinematic storytelling is to show a character's daily, banal activity, and then ever so gradually reveal the motivations behind it. The problem here is that Hans's quotidian life is so brilliantly and viscerally evoked that audience expectations quickly begin building for a revelation that unfortunately never comes.

Heisenberg knows how to use his camera expressively, as when he captures Hans running through a park with a lens of such enormous focal length that it looks, revealingly, like he's not getting anywhere. Sound is also used in a strong, visceral way, as when windshield wipers thump uselessly against a windshield at the very end of the film, to the accompaniment of a moving musical score.

The film's very brilliance is what proves so disappointing, because it promises so much more than it ever delivers. It ends up being a psychological study with no psyche to study.

Director: Benjamin Heisenberg
Screenwriter: Benjamin Heisenberg and Martin Prinz, from the novel by Martin Prinz
Cast: Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz, Markus Schleinzer
Producer: N. Geyrhalter, M. Glaser, M. Kitzberger, W. Widerhofer, P. Heilrath
Director of photography: Reinhold Vorschneider
Production designer: Renate Schmaderer
Music: Lorenz Dangel
Costume designer: Stephanie Riess
Editor: Andrea Wagner, Benjamin Heisenberg
Sales: Films Distribution SAS
Production Companies: Nikolaus Geyrhatler Filmproduktion, Peter Heilrath Filmproduktion
No rating, 96 minutes