Shot using a single camera, 90 people meticulously recreate a failed bank robbery that took place in Stockholm in June 2006. This short is #Funny or #Comedy Short Films.
‘Incident by a Bank’ it is one of week Staff Pick Premiere! on @Vimeo
Written & Directed by Ruben Östlund
Given Sweden’s reputation as a beacon of social democratic values, it’s somewhat ironic that the real-life robbery portrayed in today’s Staff Pick Premiere took place in Stockholm. Adding to this same sense of irony is the fact that director Ruben Östlund was en route to the Swedish Film Institute to secure public funds for his feature film Involuntary when he and producer Erik Hemmendorff witnessed the attempted robbery. Strolling past a jewelry store in the Scandinavian capital, Hemmendorff turned to Östlund and gestured toward two men sitting on an idling moped. “Do they have ski masks on them?” he asked. The events that subsequently unfolded served as the basis for “Incident by a Bank.” “It was a very absurd and surreal experience,” Östlund reminisces. The short went on to win the Golden Bear at Berlinale in 2010 and is now streaming worldwide for the first time ever, exclusively on Vimeo.
Shot in 2009, years before the current proliferation of single-take films, Östlund took advantage of newly-released 5K technology to shoot a stationary master shot within which all of the action transpires. He then employed digital zooms and pans to follow the action as it played out, giving the resulting film the impression of a single take. “I digitally zoomed up to 400% in the picture, but I think it works quite well [despite] the loss of quality,” says Östlund. He is quick to point out, however, that there are four hidden cuts within the film. “We did only 14 takes, which is not much for me. I usually do around 40 takes when I shoot. But I felt I had it when I was walking home [from the set] that night.”
More than its unique production process, the film’s true strength is its ability to subvert the popular narrative surrounding heists as they are commonly dramatized in cinema. Östlund eschews the carefully coordinated team of professionals (a la Ocean’s Eleven) for a motley pair of petty thieves who can hardly pilot a scooter. In lieu of heroic bystanders who rise to the occasion to overpower their aggressors, we see oblivious teenagers and morbidly fascinated gawkers who cannot be bothered to call the police. “I wanted the film to stay true to my experience,” asserts Östlund. “I was a complete cowardly bystander and that’s really the most interesting part to me.”
The inevitable gulf between our reaction to real-life emergencies and their implausible cinematic representations is a central theme in Östlund’s work. His 2014 black comedy, Force Majeure, explores the implications of a father’s fleeting moment of cowardice when his family is threatened by an avalanche. It was in part inspired by a YouTube video of an avalanche bearing down on mesmerized, smartphone-wielding bystanders, which was conspicuously devoid of the drama and heroism that would have likely characterized any Hollywood portrayal of the same event. In “Incident by a Bank,” the same dynamic applies: a life-threatening situation emerges and nobody springs to action.
“Incident by a Bank” is a unique instance of life imitating art (the real robbery), only to be later imitated by art (the film itself). However, the line between fact and fiction only got blurrier after the film was released, according to an anecdote from Östlund: “During the shoot, I had a couple of extras film the robbers with their cell phones. That material was used as a promo for the film. Half a year later, I get a link from a friend who watched an American TV show called ‘The Top Ten Dumbest Criminals in the World.’ In seventh place, they used the clip from the shoot, claiming it was authentic material.” Should we really be that surprised?