“Revenge is a dish best served cold” and Austrian writer/director Gotz Spielmann’s “REVANCHE” (the title means ‘revenge’ in German) is a calculating, brilliantly simple existential thriller goes into the depths of the frigid workings of the human psyche that may trigger the desire for vengeance. Criterion always picks up the best pieces of foreign cinema and “Revanche” doesn’t disappoint. The film puts it focus on its characters, without any use of gimmicks, attitude, and even throbbing music. “Revanche” is brilliant in its simplicity that makes it feel more realistic, thought-provoking and sincere in execution.
Alex (Johannes Kirsch) is an ex-con who works in a brothel as a ‘jack of all trades’. Alex also has an intimate relationship with an Ukrainian prostitute named Tamara (sexy Irina Patapenko). The two meet in lazy afternoons in Alex’s apartment, they have sex and enjoy each other’s company all the while being frustrated by their financial issues and the desire for something better. Tamara is being recruited as a high-priced courtesan by their boss Kunechy (Hanno Poschil) and it seems like she is being left with little options but to agree. The strain just weighs heavily on Alex as he decides to stage a bank robbery as that he can wipe Tamara’s debts clean and begin a new life. However, during the getaway Tamara is accidentally shot and killed by a cop (Andreas Lust) and fate takes Alex on a different turn.
“Revanche” is a fantastic motion picture. While the title itself means ‘revenge’, the film itself isn’t about revenge, but rather one’s desire to invoke vengeance. Director Spielmann has crafted a well-wound tale of existential drama that takes the viewer into the depths of the human psyche. We see a film with a lot of protagonists, but having no clear antagonist. “Revanche” is a film about the necessities and desires we have in life, the choices we make and how exactly we try to stand by those same choices. Fate plays a strong hand in the lives of our characters, and quite frankly this type of thing can indeed happen. I am trying to avoid revealing the film’s main ‘punch line’ as it is the main ingredient for the way it reaches its narrative impact. Suffice it to say, that the film has a powerful twist that most Hollywood studios would just milk the hell out of through overwrought emotions and drama, but this film effectively sidesteps that temptation by provoking a thought and asking the viewer what they would do.
The film has a lot of emotions going for it, and the camerawork is kept simple to keep the focus on its characters. Most of the scenes are shot from a perspective viewpoint, it is almost as if the direction is taking the viewer on a voyeuristic journey through the lives of the characters. There is no need for a soundtrack in the film to instill emotions, yet, the direction expresses the emotions through the sheer power of cinematic flair. There is a powerful scene after Robert and Alex has a conversation by the pond. After the exchange, and Alex throws a pebble into the pond’s surface, there is a powerful yet subtle use of symbolism as the water ripples and the wind gusts signify a life-changing decision is about to occur. This combined with the film’s icy cinematography and lack of music makes for a very moody and unnerving experience.
Kirsch plays his character with a lot of emotions, as we see him pacing, angry and confused as he ponders his next move. Tamara is exposed as a woman who has her own baggage to carry, she is on the phone most of the time (it isn’t really revealed who she is talking to) with conversations that appear sweet (but without subtitles to ask the viewer what it was about), she is often asked to be in compromising situations as clients in the “Cinderella” brothel often ask her to ‘spread her legs’. We see the Alex and Tamara personas in the receiving end of most of life’s harsh realities. It also appears like the two are just desperate to love as they make love in a boring, old shower. Be warned there are a lot of scenes of nudity including full frontal female ones and two very steamy sex scenes.
Robert (Andreas Lust) is a dutiful police officer who becomes wracked with guilt over what he had done. His superiors aren’t making things easier for him, there is a powerful scene where he just trembles with rage and guilt over the death he had caused. The direction lingers to show the raw emotion in the scenes. Robert’s wife Susanne has her own reasons for wanting to sleep with another man. There is a secondary storyline in the film as the we take a peek at the lives of the cop and his wife. Ursula Strauss steals the show in the second storyline as she takes over her role as Susanne as she begins to associate herself with Alex‘s grandfather Hausner. The script takes us to a web of intrigue that brings forth the questions about morality. The film’s premise eventually hits its intended impact as the film becomes truly powerfully breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
For a film titled “Revanche” the film is surprisingly bloodless and has the minimum display of violence. I commend the direction for taking the deconstruction of its characters to bold places that mainstream movies would just make a mess of. The film proves to be a compelling piece of cinema as it brings the questions for the need for revenge, the desire for a better life through illegal means and the need for something immaterial. It is also nice to see that the movie doesn’t point an accusing finger at anyone, but presents their issues as natural frailties in their character. Alex asks Susanne: “What would your God think?” and she replies: “He Understands.”
What Spielmann has crafted is a compelling piece of cinema that presents its suspense through human interactions as a morality play that far succeeds in chills and thrills than the simple cheap gimmicks to generate viewer interest. The film is nicely paced but it is a little longer than your usual film, but anyone who is familiar with Criterion releases would more than likely know what he is in for. The film concludes in a thought-provoking “larger than life” proportions, driving a poetic sense of irony that brings the perverse situation into full circle. Spielmann’s “REVANCHE” is surprisingly well-crafted and an excellent piece of filmmaking. It presents itself as a moody character study which goes to the emotional fabric that is dense human drama; all in the effort to exude tension with a methodical flair and honesty.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]
HYPE LEVEL: Moderate. Its nomination as Best Foreign language film and its success as the winner of the BEST EUROPEAN FILM may have piqued interests in the U.S. but this is the type of film that relies on 'word of mouth'.
Revanche is a 2008 Austrian made film by Gotz Spielmann and has been nominated for best foreign film in the 2009 Oscars. It won the much coveted BEST EUROPEAN FILM award and received acclaim in the Berlin film festival.
Large parts of the film were shot in the area round Gföhl and Ottenschlag in the Waldviertel.