Run Johann, run!
by Bénédicte Prot
- Bank robberies, marathons and chases in a breathless German feature lauded in competition at the Berlinale 2010
Five years after the Cannes Un Certain Regard section presented his multiple award-winning debut feature, the complex and enigmatic Sleeper, German director Benjamin Heisenberg has just presented in competition at Berlin his second work, The Robber [+see also:
interview: Benjamin Heisenberg
film profile]. This film is just as intelligent and masterful but its impact is much more stripped-down, almost physical, and not without reason, for the title is adapted from Martin Prinz’s eponymous novel based on the true story of an Austrian endurance running champion turned bank robber, whose life on the run fascinated the whole country.
Johann, played by Andreas Lust (Revanche [+see also:
interview: Götz Spielmann
film profile]), whose expression is both impassive and full of tension and who completely identified with the character (sports training included), is described in the press kit as an anti-Sisyphus, for neither money nor trophies explain the fact that his life, including when he is in prison (thanks to a treadmill) is entirely taken up by this frantic running away, from the police or other marathon runners, drawing him, breathless, into a fatal spiral.
He runs for the sake of running, "like a compulsive gambler", said Heisenberg at the press conference. Moreover, laconic as he is, Johann clearly expresses this when he says to his "girlfriend" Erika (Franziska Weisz) "I’ve never stopped running", and "what I do has nothing to do with what you call life".
When the man supervising his parole describes him as unstable, he couldn’t be further from reality: Johann has neither family nor friends and prefers to remain unemployed than to change his training programme because he is guided in everything by a kind of energy, accompanied perhaps by a death-wish.
Here, Heisenberg focuses once more on an impenetrable character whom, he emphasised before journalists at Berlin, he refused to analyse psychologically or morally. There is no explanation for his running fever, no past trauma to justify it (that’s why nothing is said about his past).
Moreover, unlike the real-life Johann, who ended up committing suicide, the character in the film runs right to the end. This results in some well-handled chase scenes, on the level of the camerawork, music and also the chosen pace, Heisenberg objecting to overly-fast chases that sometimes lose viewers along the way (like the one watched by the two characters at the cinema). The director compared his film, in which naturalness prevails without the camera being shaken about too much, to a wildlife documentary about a wolf or puma’s chase.
This running machine’s undoing, said Heisenberg, is that, as revealed in the final scene, his well-trained and closed-off heart is also susceptible to being moved. Erika, like Seberg in Godard’s film, along with Johann’s self-destructive frenzy, end up directly causing his downfall and putting an end to his running, as well as Heisenberg’s own running. The director, exhausted with healthy fatigue, has already announced that his next film will take place in a single location.
(Translated from French)