Currently the subject of a two-week tribute at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the “Berlin School” — basically, recent German indies — is a broad enough appellation to include a couple of quasi thrillers, including The Robber (2010) from director Benjamin Heisenberg, who is the grandson of the famed physicist. (If Heisenberg has set foot in America at all recently, I wonder if he’s bewildered by all the mentions of Breaking Bad he must encounter.)
Heisenberg is also co-editor of the German film journal Revolver, which is a sort of think tank in print for Berlin School filmmakers; founded in 1998, its stated intention is “to counter the dullness of German cinema and its anti-theoretical stance,” and the magazine has since expanded to become a DVD label. Heisenberg and his fellow auteur and Revolver co-founder Christoph Hochhäusler will appear at MOMA to discuss the magazine and their films on November 25th.
Heisenberg’s best-known film, The Robber (a.k.a. Der Räuber) was inspired by the true story of Johann Kastenberger (here renamed Rettenberger), a championship runner in Austria who also robbed banks. He was so fleet of foot that the police were helpless to catch him, and became a favorite of the tabloids for feats such as the time he robbed two banks within the space of five minutes, an exploit that the movie re-creates in real time.
Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) is an adrenalin junkie; he turns to robbing banks because it’s the only challenge that allows him to match, or top the highs he experiences while racing competitively. When not sprinting for his life, he succumbs to languor and depression. The Robber might succeed in capturing its protagonist’s manic-depressive lifestyle a bit too well — during the lulls you might find yourself scanning the screen for a pair of running shoes that would signal it’s time for another daring escapade.
But there’s no question Heisenberg stages the robberies and ensuing chases well. At times they’re like a sight gag or even a live-action cartoon, as Rettenberger can simply out-sprint any cop in Vienna. The highlight of the movie is the climactic foot chase through the Vienna woods at dusk; The Robber is available to watch online (see below), but this sequence alone makes it worth catching on the big screen at MOMA.
The Robber plays Sun., Nov. 24 at New York’s MOMA; a discussion with director Benjamin Heisenberg and cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider follows. Also screens Fri., Nov. 29 at MOMA.
The Robber is also available on DVD, Netflix Watch Instantly and Amazon Instant Video.