TIFF’s Östlund Retrospective: Incident by a Bank

Incident by a Bank

This week TIFF will be hosting In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund, a travelling retrospective on the Force Majeure director’s canon of films. Playing from April 9 to 14 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, the series will be highlighting Östlund’s rich and diverse works of which includes two of his award-winning short films and his four features to date. In honour of the series we are taking a look back at Östlund’s body of work.

Told completely from the audiences’ point of view, as if they are observing the unfolding events from a rooftop across the street, Incident by a Bank appears to be just another one of those subdued slice of daily life films on the surface. In the early moments of the short film the viewers witness a filmmaker and producer getting organized, university students chant their school song on a truck, and people leisurely strolling towards their various destinations. The monotony is broken when two young men arrive on a moped and attempt to hold up two nearby banks on the same street. What should be a moment of chaos and panic takes a rather amusing turn when the robberies do not go as smoothly as expected.

One of the wonderful things about the short is that it is devilishly deceptive in its execution. Though the film appears to be a simple comedic tale of a robbery gone wrong, its composition is far more complicated. Ruben Östlund not only reconstructs an incident that occurred in Stockholm in 2006, but does so in one continuous take. Östlund never shows the audience the actual robberies – only faint screams and gunshots can be heard from outside the banks –instead he patiently waits for the bumbling criminal to emerge from the various buildings. He relies on the reactions and gestures from his cast to not only heightened the comedic tension but also keep the film moving at a brisk pace. Similar to a seasoned puppeteer who meticulously plots every subtle movement, Östlund effortlessly orchestrates an intricate dance of motion and positioning with his large – 96 people to be exact – mixture of actors and extras.

Östlund even weaves in some intriguing commentary regarding how people deal with unexpected events. While several people run for safety, most of the individuals either stop to watch / film the action or simply go about their business. There are only a small few, including one daring elderly man, who feebly try to intervene and slow down the robbers. It is a rather pointed jab at how apathetic and self-absorbed our society has become. Just like the individuals on the street, the audience cannot help but take voyeuristic glee in the events unfolding below. Subtly exposing our selfish tendencies in an inventive way, Incident by a Bank is a briskly paced and hilarious film that even manages to intersperse a little food for thought between all the laughter.

Screens with The Guitar Mongoloid
Sunday, April 12, 6:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox