Friday, November 1, 2013

Banklady (Die Banklady)

Gisela Werler

BANKLADY  (Die Banklady)    B               
Germany  (118 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Christian Alvart

A German Bonnie and Clyde (1967) story, a movie based on the real life of Gisela Werler (Nadezhda Brennicke), who went on a bank robbing spree during the 60’s in Hamburg, Germany, committing a total of 19 robberies with her taxi driving partner Hermann Wittorff (Charly Hübner), becoming known as the bank lady, Germany’s first woman bank robber.  Having grown up in poverty, having to work after completing elementary school to help support her family, still living with her parents after 30, caring for her ailing father, she worked in a carpet factory, though in the film it’s a wallpaper factory, always seen under the watchful eye of her line boss, the ever flirtatious Henny Reents as Fanny, always dressed like it’s 1920’s Berlin.  Fanny’s colorfully seductive outfits are a marked contrast to the drab clothes worn by the factory workers, where it’s easy to see how Gisela might have dreamed often of having a different life.  When she meets Hermann, he looks surprisingly similar to a young Stanley Kubrick (Guia do Cinéfilo para Stanley Kubrick), but he promises a new and different life, often living a life of complete decadence, seen spending time in underworld brothels with as many girls as he can, not exactly the normal life of a taxi driver.  Gisela becomes infatuated with his double life as a part time bank robber, pleading with him to come along on his bank heists.  Bank clerks are so startled to see a woman robbing banks, that they continually ogle her shape and legs, and that’s all they can talk about with the police and press afterwards, becoming larger than life and thoroughly stylized in the newspapers as a sexy, gun-toting bank robber who remains calmly polite when asking for cash, even offering pleasant thank you’s afterwards.         

The thrill of the crime has a seductive allure, and her suddenly instant fame brings her life new meaning.  Because she’s been such a meek introvert and her life so economically deprived, she becomes addicted to the thrill and utter fascination of power and money, while also developing a passionate desire for Hermann, unable to keep her hands off of him, but he continually keeps his private life private, unable to fully commit to a life with her, though together they dream of robbing enough banks that they can live forever on the island of Capri.  Simultaneously, the Hamburg police are attempting to modernize the force, adding a new Inspector Fischer (Ken Duken), whose presence irritates the police commissioner, thinking he is not needed, as he believes in solving crimes the old fashion way.  As a result, the banks are slow to adjust to the robberies, and fail to make the recommended security measures, where alarms and cameras are only installed in a small number of selected banks.  As a result, the notorious outlaws continually target smaller banks that remain less efficient, allowing them to stay one step ahead of the Inspector.  So it’s not the police, but their own deluded confidence that they can get away with anything that leads to their ultimate undoing, as they become intoxicated both with each other, drawing ever closer, and with the rush of power that leaves them feeling invincible.  Over time, they grow more daring, eventually becoming reckless, needing to spend more romantic time together, which of course costs money. 

Gisela is also furious when she follows Hermann home one night and realizes he has a wife and family, placing more pressure on him to break free, also to try bigger and more lucrative banks.  Almost as a way of exuding her power, she even dresses as the banklady, wig and all, at her own office Christmas party, which not only turns heads, but also has coworkers turning her into the police for high priced rewards.  A visit from the Inspector, however, produces nothing, allowing them to continue pulling off heists one after another, capturing the imagination of the nation who are living vicariously through them.  Brennicke is excellent in the role, able to exude plenty of emotion with just her face, where her performance won her the Best Actress Award at the Chicago Film festival, “for a captivating performance that transformed a working class girl into a daring, intriguing bank robber.”  The stylish film is also a stark contrast for the director, Christian Alvart, whose strict Christian upbringing led to a childhood where he was rarely allowed to watch television or see films.  But like these film subjects, once he got his initial thrill behind a film camera, he developed a love and fascination for what he had been denied all his life, so making this film is a somewhat autobiographical journey into forbidden territory.  The operatic final scene is sensational, a chaotic, let loose, way over-the-top moment, where the song that plays into the final credits is simply enthralling, sounding like a German Shirley Bassey, where in real life the couple married while serving out their sentences in prison, where he received thirteen and a half years in prison, while she received a reduced sentence of nine and a half years as they believed she acted out of love for her boyfriend. 

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