Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Movie Review: Revanche

Revanche *** ½
Directed By:
Gotz Spielman.
Written By: Gotz Spielman.
Starring: Johannes Krish (Alex), Irina Potapenko (Tamara), Andreas Lust (Robert), Ursula Strauss (Susanne), Hannes Thanheiser (Hausner), Hanno Poschl (Kentecky).

Revanche is such a carefully constructed character study, that we almost forget that it is also a wonderfully tense thriller. Here is a movie that concentrates on its characters much more than its plot, where every move the characters make, every line they speak, seems perfectly in tune with their character. The film only gradually ratchets up the tension until by the end, it is almost unbearable.

Alex (Johannes Krish) has recently been released from jail, and the only job he can find is cleaning up at a brothel. There he meets Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a Russian prostitute who has just recently moved to Austria. They are in love, but for obvious reasons, hide their affair from the other people at the brothel – including the creepy boss Kentecky (Hanno Poschl), who wants to move Tamara to an apartment to be a higher class call girl. Alex has a crazy dream of buying into a friend’s bar in Ibiza, and paying off Tamara’s debts, and just living the rest of their lives out in peace. In order to finance this dream, he decides to rob a rural bank near his grandfather’s house. The robbery goes fine, but when he returns to his getaway car, with Tamara inside, he is confronted by a police officer, Robert (Andreas Lust), who fires on them as they speed away. At first it appears like a clean getaway, but one of the bullets hit Tamara and kills her. Alex gets away with the money, and decides to hide out for a while chopping wood for his grandfather. And wouldn’t you know it, but Robert and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), live in the same small town, and Susanne has taken to visiting Hausner (Hannes Thanhesier), Alex’s lonely old grandfather.

I’m sure this sounds like a typical setup for a thriller, with unlikely coincidences piled onto one another, and admittedly, that is the way a film like this would normally play out. But writer/director Gotz Spielman is more intelligent that most filmmakers. Revanche stays focused on its characters throughout the movie, and not on the needs of the plot. By the time the robbery has even taken place, Spielman has gotten us inside the different worlds inhabited by Alex, Tamara, Robert, Susanne and Hausner. As such, throughout the movie, they remain people, and not just pawns in his game.

There are no good guys or bad guys in Revanche. To a certain extent, we like or at least feel sympathy for all of the characters. Alex never wanted anyone to get hurt – he doesn’t even load the gun before going into the bank. He just looks at his options, and realizes that he has two choices – a lifetime of menial jobs where he gets little money and no respect, or pulling off one bank robbery and having his dreams come true. It’s true that these are the dreams of someone much younger than Alex, but he doesn’t see it that way. Tamara is not your typical movie prostitute. Yes, she is exploited, but she has a hand in her own exploitation. Kentecky is creepy, but he never even tries to sleep with her. This is a business to him, and also for her. Perhaps she was drawn to Alex because he is the first man to treat her with any real kindness – not just leer at her in a sexual way, or see a way for him to make money. She is the tragic figure in the movie, as she is caught in a world she doesn’t really understand, and pays the price. In the early scenes of the movie, Robert complains that he sees no action in his small town police force, but when something “exciting” finally does happen, and he gets to draw his gun and shoot someone, the guilt eats him away on the inside.

But the most interesting, most complex character in the movie is certainly Ursula Strauss’ Susanne. She has recently suffered through a miscarriage, so she and Robert are depressed to begin with. After the shooting, he spirals further down, and she thinks that having a baby would pull him out of it. The problem is that there are some issues with Robert’s sperm. The fact that they got pregnant once was a miracle, and twice seems impossible. But what about this brooding stranger over at Hausner’s place, who says he isn’t going to be hanging around for very long. Her final scene, when the truth is finally revealed, is heartbreaking. She, more than any other character, is going to be effected by the events of the movie for the rest of her life.

Revanche means Revenge in German, and in a way that is what the movie is about. Alex wants revenge on Robert for killing Tamara, and perhaps in a way he gets it. But it is a hollow victory for Alex. Tamara is still gone, and although it looks like he could get away with the robbery, he didn’t actually make enough to do what he wanted to do. Spielman has been making movies in Austria for 25 years now, but has never really broken through in North America until this film got nominated for an Oscar last year for best foreign language film. True, The Class or Waltz with Bashir still should have won that Oscar, but Revanche is certainly better then the film that did win – Departures. It is a brilliant little character study and thriller all rolled into one.

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