Restrained 'Revanche' hits hard


POSTED: Friday, December 11, 2009

The Euro-word “;revanche”; means not just revenge, but the act of taking revenge, and as we all know, revenge is a dish best served cold.

This film, written and directed by Austrian Goeetz Spielmann, was an Academy Award nominee earlier this year for best foreign film. It's landing in America thanks to distributor Janus Films, which sees it as something special.

The cumulative effect of the film doesn't hit you until later—it's so quiet and restrained, which is bizarre because it features bank robbery, brutal sex, seediness, accordions and, yes, revenge.

City mouse Alex (perpetually worried Johannes Krisch) is a gofer for a whorehouse in Vienna. He and in-demand prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko, appropriately dissolute) are in love and desperately desire a new life together. The whorehouse owner has other ideas, and so Alex concocts a plan—a “;simple”; plan—to rob a bank.

Country mouse Robert (Andreas Lust) is a rural policeman who's trying to make a baby with wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), a woman who's just bursting with motherliness to the point of nearly popping out of her shift. Near them lives Alex's fading grandfather on a dairy farm, and also nearby, a bank.

        Not Rated
        Opens today at Consolidated Kahala

Nothing goes right. Real life slaps these people around. And nothing goes as expected, particularly our preformed expectations as movie consumers. What could have been a formula gun-fantasy by Hollywood memes instead is a meditation on the vagaries of fate, all moving to the whims of nature and happenstance.

Spielmann's characters are mature, although they're not entirely grown up. They have fantasies they're willing to commit to. Their performances are so quiet and understated that they seem to be moving in deep currents of desperation. The wide-open spaces of the countryside are just as confining as the dirty walls of city hotel rooms. The film plays with the paucity of choices these people have.

This is not a cheerful film. It is, however, entirely engrossing in the way a rich novel pulls you in, as the characters are so deftly stated that they seem to have lives beyond the edges of the screen. And we think of them as people, not characters.

Note: Some of the sex scenes near the beginning are seedy enough to sprout. And scenes involving a logging saw will make you nervous.