2008 [GERMAN]

Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller

IMDb Rating 7.5 10 13799

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by domnulx 8 / 10

The Bauer at the brothel, the peasant and the prostitute

Revanche. Written and directed by Götz Spielmann. The look of the film is thoroughly authentic, and the Austrian milieu very convincing. Johannes Krisch is fabulous as Alex, the peasant brute with a broken heart and an uncontrollable sex drive. Andreas Lust is very good as well, as Robert, Alex's police officer nemesis. Caught in the middle is Ursula Strauss, who plays Susanne, Robert's wife.

The story starts out in the squalid world of Viennese prostitution, at a tacky brothel on the periphery. Alex works for the local prostitution boss and he has fallen in love with one of the Eastern European streetwalkers, Tamara, played by Irina Potapenko. When Tamara is recruited for a promotion to call-girl, she decides instead to run away with Alex. Here the story moves to the countryside where Alex's father lives in a miserable cabin on the outskirts of modern Austrian society. But if the surrounding become simpler, the interaction does not, as Alex becomes entangled in the lives of the small town police office and his wife.

The film is satisfying on many levels. It is a veritable ethnographic study of the interface between post-modern Central European human trafficking and pre-industrial Austrian bauern culture. Alex and his father speak to each other in what has been described to me as a rich and authentic peasant dialect rarely represented in film. Not only does it look and sound authentic, but the story makes perfect sense, too. And that's saying a lot for a European "written and directed by" film, where narrative logic doesn't often get more than cursory consideration. The name "revanche" has a double meaning in German, both revenge and a return match or a second chance, and it seems that both of these ideas are being developed throughout the story, as characters juggle their need to get even with their desire to secure their own futures. The tragic consequences of their every action lead them further and further down a path not of their own choosing. We get a taste of this feeling of predestination when the camera stops still at a forested point in the road, a spot that will take on fatal significance later in the story. Yet, if fate controls the characters' destinies, it is the strength of willpower that will decide who survives and who will fade into insignificance.

Revanche did not get nominated in any categories for the EFA awards in 2008, but it is Austria's entry for the Oscar Foreign Language film nomination in 2009.

Reviewed by Chris Knipp 9 / 10

Authenticity and surprise in a gritty thriller

Revanche is a deliciously gritty neo-noir full of surprises, so many important ones that it is better not to go into too much detail about the plot. But as important as its clever narrative to the success of the film is its atmosphere, which has a contemporary and positively ethnographic precision, but builds on the traditional contrast between city and country. And there is another contrast: between two couples, an ex-con and a whore, and a cop and his wife who works in a shop. The first couple is on the edge of Vienna and the other lives in the country, but circumstances bring them together.

The action begins with Alex (Johannes Krisch) and his Ukrainian prostitute girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko) in Vienna. Spielmann rubs our noses in the scummy world of a whorehouse on the outskirts of town, with its Eastern European sex workers and its slimy fat cat boss Konecny (Hanno Poeschl), for whom Alex works. Tamara speaks pidgin German, but she's not dumb, and when the boss offers her an upgrade to call girl in a flat, she knows it's trouble and resolves to run away with Alex. She owes a big debt, and he cooks up the robbery scheme so she can pay it off. He says it's going to work because he has a plan. He says that so many times we become certain it won't. But despite Rothkopf's tidy summary, the outcome isn't so simple. The bank robbery isn't botched, but it goes badly for Alex, and also for a cop named Robert "When people go to the city they become either arrogant or scoundrels. He's a scoundrel." So says Hauser (Johannes Thanheiser), Alex's grandfather, an old man failing in health who lives on a small farm. He exists outside the modern world almost completely, though he does drive a little old VW Bug. People don't think it's safe for him to still be on the road. When Alex goes to stay with Hauser, it seems almost that he's fallen off the map that includes the prostitutes and the scummy underside of Viennese life.

Alongside Alex's story is that of the policeman, Robert, who seems unable to give his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss) a baby; too bad, because they both want one. They live in a nice modern house they've built, with help from friends, somewhere not too far from Alex's grandfather. In fact Susanne knows him.

"I'll give you one thing: you really are a hell of a worker," Hauser tells Alex. Alex hides out after the robbery by staying with his grandfather and cutting up a mountain of firewood. The work instinct unites the two men in spite of everything, and Hauser's declining health gives Alex another reason for staying around. He also has revenge in his heart for what's happened to Tamara. But things get complicated, people talk,and that changes.

Revanche builds on coincidence but in ways so rooted in gritty milieu and so gnarly and unexpected they really seem to emerge not from a writer's brainstorm but the downright mind boggling absurdity of real life. The word "revanche" can mean in German not only revenge, but also rematch--in short, a second chance. If Alex reaches a point where he can work out his salvation with diligence, it's much more quirky circumstance that gets him there than any pat change of heart. The satisfaction this film provides is delayed. It comes in the way it simmers and ripens after a viewing.

Martin Gschlacht did the excellent cinematography. The acting is strong and convincing, including that of the 83-year-old Thanheiser. With close to a dozen films under his belt, Spielmann, who also wrote the screenplay, is clearly at the top of his game. It will be a real shame if US theatrical audiences don't get to see Revanche on the big screen.

Revanche won the Europa Cinemas Label for best European film at the Berlinale, and has other awards, including two FIPRESCIs. It was a nominee for the Best Foreign Oscar. Shown as part of the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center, New York, February 2009. "Revanche . . .has just been picked up for North American theatrical and home video distribution by art film distributor Janus and the Criterion Collection.

Reviewed by cpurves 9 / 10

One of the finest movies of the year, or the past 5 Imho

No need to recap the plot as so many of you have already done so. What was interesting to me, along with the excellence of the photography, great naturalistic acting, lack of portentous music (what a relief), was the psychological portrayal of guilt. Who felt guilt for their actions, who did not. Obviously the piggy brothel owner felt none. The policeman was painfully racked by guilt...his panic attack was brilliant, the best I have seen portrayed in a movie. Then, the scene by the pond when the guilt was transferred to Alex was intensely moving, I thought. Even though Alex had tried to dissuade Tamara from joining him on the bank job, he was clearly shaken by Alex's unknowing accusation.

Susanne's character was also nuanced — someone who was a rescuer (in a good way), her attempts to protect her husband while also getting what she wanted, were compelling.

This, for me, has been one of the better movies of the year. Highly recommended.

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