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‘The Robber’ is mysterious and compelling

The Robber

Directed by Benjamin Heisenberg

Written by Benjamin Heisenberg and Martin Prinz

Germany, 2010

Benjamin Heisenberg’s The Robber will never be accused of being too obvious.  In fact, it’s a film that begs the question, ‘how much information is too little information?’

Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) robs banks.  He also runs marathons.  He’s quite good at both though his perpetually stoic demeanor belies any internal excitement. Director Heisenberg juxtaposes kinetically shot chase sequences that would make Peter Yates proud, with quiet, vague moments alone with Johann. Upon his release from prison Johann meets an old acquaintance, Erika (Franziska Weisz).  He moves into her house and they quickly begin an affair. How he knew Erika, why she is attracted to him, whether he actually cares for her – all questions are left for us to decide and entirely without hint.

The Robber finds a comparison in another German existential film, Wim Wenders’ 1972 production Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.  Like the Wenders film, moments of shocking violence pierce the otherwise calm film where explanation and motivation are conspicuously absent.  Unlike the protagonist in the Wenders film, even Johann’s interactions with others are blank.

One gets the idea after some time that Johann robs because he knows nothing else and because it is the only thing that matches the pure adrenaline rush of competitive racing.  The film is actually more fatalistic than existential, ultimately, as Johann never even attempts to alter his path and slowly accepts each obstacle that is thrown his way.  Even when on the run, the feeling is less of a real yearning for freedom than it is of a love of the chase (read: race).

There’s a particularly haunting moment towards the end of The Robber. Hunted by a mass police dragnet, Johann takes for the hills and climbs.  And climbs. And climbs. Rows of officers get ever closer, surrounding him.  With no way to turn Johann finds a small hole barely visible underfoot.  He burrows in and watches as the police search haplessly above.  The camera peers out through the opening along with Johann.  He looks childlike.  The moment is otherworldly and innocent.

For all of its ambiguity and impenetrability, The Robber remains compelling throughout.  The exhaustion of the race nicely echoes what can only be Johann’s disregard for societal progression and the stress of a confining world.

Neal Dhand