Räuber, Der (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), incarcerated for armed robbery, has been released from prison. A parole officer (Markus Schleinzer) is assigned to guide and take note of how well he is integrating to society. Those who know Johann know that he has a passion for running in marathons. Even when he was in prison, he remained focused on his training. But what they do not know is that one of his hobbies involves putting on a mask, having a shotgun in hand, and robbing banks all over Austria. It is based on a true story.
“Der Räuber,” based on the screenplay by Benjamin Heisenberg and Martin Prinz, plays the extraordinary events rather small, personalizing rather than sensationalizing, so it works as a drama about a person who is haunted by an overwhelming addiction, it seems the only way he will stop is when he is dead.
The reason why Johann robs banks is never clear. A few might say it is about the money because he is without a job, but not once do we see him spending it. Some might consider that it is a way to relieve stress, but running for long distances can accomplish the same. Others might claim that it is for the sake of adrenaline, a race against time, as he does when he trains, before the cops arrive and put him back in jail. No matter what the reason, however, we see the physical, emotional, and psychological ramifications of his obsession.
His desire to push what he is capable of to the extremes costs him potentially healthy and meaningful relationships. Though he gets into a relationship with Erika (Franziska Weisz), a woman he knew prior to his incarceration, their interactions are often cold. Their love scenes indoors are not sexy, shot under a shade too dark to see anything, to see if the experience is enjoyable for either of them. While outdoors, they act more like strangers or, at best, acquaintances. A case can be argued that Johann’s loyalty is not to her but to whatever it is that forwards his goals most.
The robberies are shot in a very clinical way. Our attention is on the event, while still anticipating that something might go wrong, because there is no score or soundtrack that distracts. Because of the silence, with the exception of nervous shuffling of employees demanded to fill the black bag with cash, there is natural sense of urgency is created. Similar qualities can be observed during the chase scenes. When he is not safe, we hear nothing but breathing, footsteps hitting the pavement, occasional chatter from onlookers, and his body hitting objects like doors, walls, and bodies that happen to be in the way.
What I found strange is that even though I knew that Johann is wrong to rob banks, I found myself rooting for him not to get caught. Perhaps this would not have been the case if the screenplay showed Johann committing murder in cold blood–like the real person, Johann Kastenberger, in which the main character is based on.
Based on the novel by Martin Prinz and directed by Benjamin Heisenberg, “The Robber” is an appropriately muted picture that inspires the audience to drill deeply into the mind of a person so unwilling to let others into his life due to the possibility of disrupting his routine. One way or another, we know someone like him. Even I saw a part of myself in him from time to time which might explain why I did not want to see him back behind bars.