Criterion Challenge #502
It’s intriguing to note that the Criterion Collection opted for releasing REVANCHE as the first and, up until now in 2015, the only Austrian production of film in the entire collection (DVD and Blu-ray). Except the earlier works from Michael Haneke (the recent release of CODE UNKNOWN is mainly France production), and the latest discovery of Ulrich Seidl, Austrian films are largely an unexplored territory. Therefore, Götz Spielmann’s Oscar-nominated work is a mystery, a hidden treasure that, if not by Criterion, I would be most likely missed it.
The film is defined as a thriller by lots of critics and reviews, but I personally found no “thrilling” at all. This is not a criticism, instead it’s more like an observation on the repressed tone and the oppressed characters in embodying a rich atmospheric psychological drama. Arguably, the film could be divided into two parts. The first one centered on the unsteady life between Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a brothel prostitute from Ukraine, and her secret lover, the brothel bouncer Alex (Johannes Krisch). It ends with the bank robbery committed by Alex along with Tamara. The second half portrays the aftermath of the robbery, Alex’s rural life with his old grandfather Hausner (Hannes Thanheiser) in the countryside. Several characters appeared in the first half, including the policeman Robert (Andreas Lust) and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), are entwined into the plot gradually, revealing their impotency in conceiving a child.
To analyze the plot without spoilers is futile in REVANCHE, yet all you need to know is that the film is far from any mouse-and-cat crime thrillers, or one against all odds vengeance story. My complaint mainly concern the brothel storyline with Tamara being harnessed by her pimp Konecny (Hanno Pöschl), which seems to be dropped off entirely later on, understandably due to a plot twist in the middle of the film. Still the set-up did pay off with a solid portrait of Alex’s passionate love towards Tamara, contrasting to his later cold but aggressive affair with Susanne. Most importantly, the plot is never forced or unreasonable, still it holds a manner of ambivalence till the end, whether the revenge is fulfilled or not.
The cinematography by Martin Gschlacht is attenuated in nature, almost invisible; together with the omission of music in the entire film, apart from the accordion music played by the granddad, the deliberated choice in avoidance of stylish elements enriched the monochromatic tone with an undercurrent of guilt and rage. These so-called anti-Hollywood style are implicitly subversive, but lack the transcendence one may encounter in films like Robert Bresson or Michael Haneke. It’s a nice inclusion and an essential film for the sake of diversity in the collection itself, one should hope for more Austrian films in the future. Yes, I mean more Haneke please.
Including an early shot film from the director, a making of documentary and an interview, not much but still a fairly solid package for those who found the film intriguing.