Saturday, December 15, 2012

Der Rӓuber (The Robber)

In a departure from my normal food/drink related posts, I'm going to talk about a movie I watched over the last two nights, a German language film called "Der Rӓuber," or "The Robber."  I don't watch a lot of movies, usually sticking to television, since it's easier to watch a 45 minute or hour long episode, especially late at night, but on occasion Netflix offers something that looks particularly interesting or out of the ordinary, and "Der Rӓuber" is one of those. 

Based on a novel, which was itself based on the exploits of real life bank robber and successful marathoner Johann Kastenberger, "Der Rӓuber" follows Johann Rettenberger, a Viennese convict who begins the movie as a prisoner finishing up his term for an armed robbery.  In a scene that sets up much of what comes later, Rettenberger is talking to the parole officer who will be responsible for him upon his release, and when asked whether he wants help, tells the man "I haven't needed help for six years.  I don't need any now."  Rettenberger is a loner, insular and quiet, who lives, it seems, solely to run.  And, it turns out, to rob.  Even when he makes a huge score, enough money to keep himself afloat for years to come, he can't help himself; he has to keep donning his mask and white gloves.

The timeline is not exact, but within two scenes of his release, Rettenberger is charging into a bank, masked and with a shotgun at the ready.  This is just one of a number of beautifully filmed robbery scenes, as the German director, Benjamin Heisenberg shies away from the Hollywood, or even London, style of heist; Rettenberger is in quickly, shouts a few quick lines, has the teller give him what little money is in the registers, and leaves, running to his most recently stolen car.  There are no big speeches, no in depth conversations, and, most importantly, no gunfire; in other words, it's realistic.  The only gunfire in the entire movie last for less than five seconds, and there is almost no violence.  Rather, the movie follows Rettenberger through his life, running, robbing, and even experiencing something that could be called love, with a social services worker he knew before he went to prison.

The cinematography is gorgeous, subtle but strong, without any apparent need to shove it down your throat what is going on.  Scenes seem organic, and not just the robberies are shot in a realistic manner; the running scenes rang true, even things so simple as the excitement of the crowds at the success of this homegrown man, or the exhaustion on the face of Andreas Lust, who played Rettenberger.  Lust himself gave a powerful performance, playing the quiet, determined, yet deeply flawed and angry Rettenberger, giving him an honesty that is rare in film these days.  Franziska Weisz, the stunningly beautiful Viennese actress who played Erika, Rettenberger's love interest, was perfect in her portrayal of the conflict that must inhabit someone who knows that the person they love is bad, maybe even evil, and must try to reconcile doing what is right with what feels right.  It is not an easy thing to get across, especially when there is a language barrier that requires the viewer to read subtitles.  Body language and expression become extremely important, and she, like Lust, plays her character with an unusual honesty and integrity.

This movie would not have been made in Hollywood, not like this; a compelling story, I'm surprised it has not been told previously, because this is the kind of thing that Hollywood thrives on.  There is a clear anti-hero here, but the movie does not judge Rettenberger; it simply shows him.  The viewer can make a judgment about his deeds, but the movie does not preach, it informs.  While some things are dramatized, the thing I liked best about the movie was its subtetly and simple realism, two things that are distinctly lacking in modern American film.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who can afford to waste a couple hours in front of a television or computer screen, and doesn't mind subtitles.


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