Johann (Andreas Lust) has a treadmill in his prison cell. It’s the first of many improbable details in The Robber, an art-thriller from Austria that regularly forgoes believability for a greater cause: to trap us in the perverted mindset of a man with a higher (albeit grossly amoral) plan. Keeping in shape proves key, as Johann’s first bits of business upon his release are to win a major marathon—but not before he’s robbed a bank.
And so goes the life of Johann—stern, focused and unfriendly, a man always in motion, whether it’s running for trophies or barreling headfirst into larceny, and eventually worse. Strapping on a mask that makes him look like a zombie Christopher Lambert, our anti-hero nicks cars then speeds away, making a point to listen to whatever the driver had on the speakers. He’s in an out of banks with great efficiency; should the teller be slow, he’ll bail before his stash is full and make up the difference by sprinting to another, nearby bank.
What’s his angle? The screenplay, by director Benjamin Heisenberg and novelist Martin Prinz—who based his tale on real-life runner-larcenist Johann Rettenberger—is not remotely interested in psychology, pop or otherwise. The Robber is as stripped down to the bare essentials as its protagonist and nearly as hostile to outside interpretation; you sense the filmmakers almost empathizing with their creation when he’s pestered by an overly concerned parole officer. Johann’s goal is intentional loneliness, an ascetic lifestyle in which he relentlessly pursues a mysterious ideal at any cost, an inexplicable idea seen all the way to its logical end.
With its loose handling of logic and even the presence of a hottie who turns into a fatale (Franziska Weisz), The Robber is essentially a ’40s gutter noir told in the manner of a clinical European art film—as though Michael Haneke had directed Gun Crazy. (Or better yet, Götz Spielmann, whose Revanche also featured Lust.) Those looking for anything beyond the film’s purposefully narrow offerings will leave grumbling. The rest will enjoy it up until its last second near-about-face.
Pierre Thoretton’s L’Amour Fou swipes the title of a Jacques Rivette masterpiece, but at least it has an appropriately outsized subject: Yves Saint Laurent. The late fashion titan, heir to Christian Dior and lord of haute couture, receives a mildly atypical hagiographic doc that’s significant chiefly for keeping things personal. Rather than simply plod through his life with an assortment of gushing talking heads, Torreton’s film allows one head to do most of the plodding: Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s partner of 50 years.
Gallic in his muted sentiment, Bergé calmly but warmly guides us through his companion’s landmark achievements while dropping personal details like seeds along a plain. Saint Laurent, who suffered from depression and drug addiction, divvied his time between urban clubs and country respite; at his rural manses his neighbors included Françoise Sagan and Marguerite Duras. Home movies show Saint Laurent hanging at a house party with Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger. A filmed interview finds a nervous Saint Laurent frequently citing his immense bed as his favorite place in the world and confessing that his favorite aspect of men is body hair.
Bergé rarely speaks of himself, save a brief detour to discuss his work with AIDS charities. L’Amour Fou thus exists as a love letter to the love of his life; with it we get to know Saint Laurent through Bergé as well as Bergé through his discussions of Saint Laurent. Less moving is the wraparound story. While Bergé talks, he preps for the auctioning off of Saint Laurent’s massive art collection, containing some 733 impressive items, at Christie’s. Torreton’s cameras periodically step away from Bergé and his recollections to prowl quietly around Saint Laurent’s multiple tony, art-studded living quarters, which are gradually dismantled and boxed up for moving. The idea is to portray a man through his belongings, and then suggest that the selling off of his items is tantamount to a wide scattering of his ashes. But the idea isn’t established enough to stick, meaning L’Amour Fou will have to settle as being the most compelling film that’s visually not much more than a dude sitting in a comfortable chair.