is hard to blame Gisela Werler and her accomplices for their spree of bank
hold-ups. In 1966, Hamburg was practically begging for it. None of the banks
were alarmed and only three patrol cars were equipped with radios. They were
easy pickings for Werler and Hermann Wittorff. Of course, since we know who they
are their luck must have run out eventually. True crime gets groovy in
Christian Alvart’s Banklady (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 KINO! Festival of German Films in New York.
mousy Werler yearns for a more exciting life, while laboring in a wallpaper
factory behind a hulking piece of machinery that looks like it was designed to
mangle up hands and feet. Uwe, the factory sad sack, tries to put the moves on
her, but she wants someone better. She thinks she has found him when she meets
Uwe’s outlaw friend, Wittorff. Initially, she knows him as “Peter,” but what’s
in a name? After holding some loot for the pair, Werler is determined to
replace her less than steely suitor as Wittorff’s main stick-up accomplice.
first job immediately launches the “Banklady” media feeding frenzy. Soon she is
enjoying her new chic persona and the attention she always so craved. She is
also rather taken with Wittorff. She wants them to be Bonnie and Clyde, but he
wants things to be strictly business—more or less. Conflict slowly escalates as
Hamburg’s only competent copper, junior police commissioner Fischer doggedly
follows their trail.
Banklady’s stranger than
fiction tale of crime and self-reinvention looks ripe for a Hollywood remake on
paper, but it is hard to see a studio greenlighting a picture with two such
earthy, down-to-earth leads (the closest you could conceivably pitch might be
Tilda Swinton and Nathan Lane, but that does not really say boffo opening
weekend). However, it is easy to understand why Werler would risk so much for
such an unprepossessing rake.
fact, there is something very compelling about her ill-fated empowerment
through Jackie O bobs, pill box hats, mod pattern dresses, and guns. Alvart
revels in the 1960s period details, even employing Thomas Crown Affair-ish split screens (which seem rather bafflingly
underutilized, considering how effective they can be).
Alvart (having survived Hollywood) never lets his style overwhelm the cast’s
substance. Severely glammed-down TV star Nadeshda Brennicke puts on an acting
showcase as the ferociously romantic-minded Werler. There is also something
intriguingly Runyonesque about Charly Hübner’s Wittorff. Frankly, the rest of
the cast is just swimming in their wake, but so be it.
Werler’s story is grabby in several respects and
Alvart realizes its cinematic possibilities quite thoroughly. It seems like a
perfect match for an art house distributor like Music Box Films, who seem to
handle more German releases than any of their competitors. Regardless, it is an
energetic but mostly serious period crime drama that just about any mainstream
viewer will enjoy, except for those who happened to be Hamburg cops in 1960s.
Recommended accordingly, Banklady screens
this Friday (6/13), Saturday (6/14), and Monday (6/16) at the Quad Cinema, as
part of this year’s KINO!
Labels: Christian Alvart, German Cinema, KINO '14