A Heist Film for Our Time: “Incident by a Bank”

On June 26th, 2006, Ruben Östlund and Erik Hemmdendorf witnessed an attempted bank robbery in Stockholm. The recreated the scene with a single-shot short film that won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2010.

The film, which combines the absurd with hyper-reality, is really a study in space and reaction. Trucks of recent high school graduates roll by, singing and chanting, at one point drowning out gun fire. One of the robbers shoots at an old man hiding behind a column, yelling, “beat it!”

Throughout, there is the eerie calm of a non-incident. People still going about their lives; two young men walking out of the bank at the exact second the two robbers go inside. Two women pushing prams walk calmly around their getaway motorcycle. The only commentary is that of Ruben and Erik’s stand-ins, who film the incident on a phone and wonder to each other, “should we call the police?”

It’s an interesting look at how events can unfold around us. Östlund doesn’t posit diffusion of responsibility; he doesn’t seem to assume anyone is going to call the police. The whole event is so short-lived, so ambiguous, then frightening, then resolved – it’s hard to know how any of us would react. But Östlund’s point is that this is how he, and those around him, did react. It’s a casual indictment of inaction, mostly free of judgement and so real it’s surreal.

See the film here: