“A classic tragic structure”
- Extracts from the press conference given by the German director at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival after the screening in competition of his second feature, The Robber
The Robber [+see also:
interview: Benjamin Heisenberg
film profile] is based on a real-life event that took place in the 1980s in Austria. How was it perceived?
Benjamin Heisenberg : After his release from prison, this runner became a marathon champion and, at the same time, embarked on a series of successful bank robberies, with a mask and pump-action shotgun. The two stories merged dramatically for once he had been identified, he was able to evade the police in what was the largest police operation in Austria since the Second World War.
Martin Prinz tied the two stories together in a compelling novel, whose film rights were bought. We also met people who had known the main character (who committed suicide), policemen and members of the running community. The editing stage was long and difficult. We had several versions of the film because we kept having more and more information to add. We made some choices, by abandoning certain elements in the script.
Besides the fact he runs, the motivations of the main character remain somewhat mysterious.
I didn’t approach the matter from a psychological angle. I see him more as a phenomenal character, someone with an enormous inner energy with which he has to cope. It’s this energy that guides him and we wanted to convey it, without going into the psychological details.
There’s another aspect to the character: he is capable of falling in love and this will lead to his downfall. These two elements are in conflict. The money he steals doesn’t really mean anything to him: he keeps it in a bag, under his bed. He doesn’t even run to achieve a certain state: it’s simply something that’s in his nature. For this character, there’s running, space and a growing tension. Death looms, we know there will be no happy ending. It’s a classic tragic structure and the love that bowls over this running machine is part of this.
Why did you focus in such detail on the sporting elements?
The very meticulous way he prepares for his races is fascinating. It was important to show all the various physical moments connected with his training, by going into maximum detail with close-ups of his shoes, the blood test, etc. As a director, I’m fascinated by the act of observing. The characters emerge from this observation. It’s not really a verbal approach, lots of details are incorporated and at the end of the film we reach an emotional point where we feel the same as if we had put together a psychological portrait, even though we haven’t developed this.
What were your prior strategies for the filming style, which looks very fluid? DoP Reinhold Vorschneider is very precise, with a steady and still camera. The challenge was how to achieve this kind of shot with a character who is constantly moving, so that we follow the running and movement without it becoming too chaotic. Very often, in contemporary action films, it’s difficult to understand what’s actually going on because the editing is speeded up and everything happens very quickly: we lose the audience.
I wanted viewers to be able to follow the character through his movements, to feel the sense of freedom he has when he runs, as well as his concentration. We filmed the chase scene as if we were pursuing an animal, a wolf or puma, with the camera. We wanted this natural, almost archaic aspect.
What is your opinion on the current genre film revival?
I like 1970s action films like John Boorman’s Deliverance, and Michael Mann’s Thief. Genre films have always fascinated me: there are unchanging conventions known to viewers and everything has already been done, so you have to create your own opening.