Starring Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, and Ursula Strauss
Austrian filmmaker’s Gotz Spielmann’s Revanche is a wonderfully complex look at four characters and the decisions each of them make. Decisions that will alter the course of each other’s lives. The title’s literal translation is revenge, and that is what is at the center of this psychological thriller. To describe why vengeance is being sought I will have to spoil a twist (happens less than a quarter into the film), that you may prefer to discover on your own.
The film begins in such a way that you do not anticipate the directions it will eventually go. Alex, played by Johannes Krisch, is the right hand man for a brothel owner, Konecny. Tamara, one of the prostitutes at the brothel is in a secret relationship with Alex. They both want to leave their current lives and be together. It is mentioned that Alex was recently in prison, so when he suggests he should rob a bank, he is told it will get him right back in the big house, but that wont stop him. Tamara agrees, albeit reluctantly, with the catch that she has to come along for the robbery. Why she wants to come I don’t know, but it serves no real purpose, and in the end will only cause problems. Alex leaves her in the car as goes into the bank. Coincidentally a policeman happens by the car. This cop, Robert, tells Tamara she is illegally parked and must move the car. She tells him her boyfriend will be right back. Alex returns, points a gun at the cop, hops in the car, and drives off. Robert aims his gun at the tires and shoots, but the car goes unscathed. It takes about a minute for the already-in-celebratory-mode Alex to realize his lover has been shot and killed.
The despair ridden Alex hides out on his grandfather’s farm, which we will find out, is very near to the policeman’s home. His grandfather is a kind, lonely old man whose only visitor, a woman who comes on Sundays, happens to be Robert’s wife, Suzanne. Fate has bound these lives, whether it was luck or deliberation that put them in these positions, it will ultimately be up them for where they go next. Alex channels his rage and heartache into obsessively chopping wood for days on end. We can see violence inside him that he wants to get out. When he discovers Robert’s whereabouts, he begins to plot his revenge.
Meanwhile, Robert is plagued with guilt. He never meant to hurt the girl and it is eating him up inside. It begins to affect his work, and his marriage, which is already in turmoil as he and Suzanne have suffered through a miscarriage and are having no luck getting pregnant again. He is told he is infertile. The wife begins to be attracted to Alex. He is tougher than her husband, scary even, and that is why she wants him.
As Alex gets closer and closer to exacting his revenge, we begin to wonder if Robert is really even the man he is mad at. Was not at his own discretion that he allowed Tamara to be in the car? The choices each character makes haunt them. Long after the credits roll, you will be examining them as well. Is anyone at fault?
Spielmann uses no musical score, something he claims is “cheap and manipulative” and instead uses the sounds of nature to fuel the suspense. The grandfather occasionally plays the accordion, offering an odd lift to the film. As the films moves from the city to the countryside, it gains a new life from Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography. Both locales have a similar rhythm but a different energy, as Spielmann has said himself. He has cited Ozu as an influence, as he loves the purity of his form, the powerful quietness. Trying to create that effect in this film was one of his goals and he has succeeded.
The actors give perfect, natural performances. Krisch is fascinating; he creates a character that we want to follow wherever he goes, especially into the dark forest. Revanche is a stunning tragedy, about learning to accept life, which is as gripping and tense as it is beautiful.