Revanche (2008) dir. Götz Spielmann
Starring: Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, Ursula Strauss
By Alan Bacchus
Some spoilers below...
Götz Spielman's Oscar nominated Revanche is an inspired masterpiece of a thriller, which doesn't really turn out to be a thriller in the end, instead something more emotional complex and profound than a mere genre film.
Alex and Tamara are a pair of lovers, desperately trying to make a life together. First they have to get out of the sex traffic business, Tamara is a hooker/stripperworking for an Eastern European gangster and Alex is the club’s hardened but ineffectual barkeep. Alex makes a plan to hold up a small town bank, grab the cash, pay off their debts and ride away into the sunset in freedom. Plans go wrong of course when the heist is interrupted by a humble cop, Robert, who interrupts their escape.
Spielmann is clever to subvert our expectations, steering the movie in the direction of a lovers-on-the-run road movie in the first half, before pulling the rug from under us and making a dramatic left turn to something deeper and complex. The second half deals with the fallout from Alex/Tamara’s encounter with the cop, the details of which I won’t reveal here. Soon Alex finds himself alone hiding from the authorities in the home of his elderly grandfather and his kindly female neighbour Susanne, who happens to be the wife of the cop who disrupted the heist.
The title Revanche, means revenge in German, but it can also mean ‘second chance’ - the prevailing theme which dominates the rest of the film. Alex wrestles with the desire for revenge and his inability to commit to another act of violence, or whether his grandfather and the town will become his second chance at making a real honest life for himself.
Afte the heist Spielmann disposes of the urban setting and the strip club and we don't ever see the slimy pimp and club owner again. As such, it’s a greyer area of conflict. What was easily characterized as good vs. bad, hero v. villain, protag vs. antagonist, is much more difficult to identify with.
The relationship of Susanne and Alex is particularly intriguing. For Alex, he would appear to have contempt for Susanne a) because of her association with the cop that prevented the bank robbery and b) Susanne’s nosey small town congeniality which threatens Alex’s grieving process. Then out of the blue Susanne seduces Alex. It’s a shock to us, but an instinctual carnal attraction of desperate souls, not unlike Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton’s smouldering love affair in Monster’s Ball.
For Susanne though her agenda is more devious than Alex’s. Alex easily succumbs to passion, because well, he’s a man and it’s doesn’t take much to seduce a man. For Susanne, it’s a desperate attempt to save her marriage, by secretly conceiving a child even if it’s not her husband’s.
Spielmann sets a quiet tone, a trendy observational style, languid easy going pace, and unstylized though pristine visuals. Without overt violence or conflict Spielmann slowly simmers his situations and characters with internalized emotions. Like Hamlet, Alex who desires revenge against Robert, is unable to make a decision and take action – a trait of Alex’s planted by Tamara’s pimp in a throwaway conversation early in the film. So we sense there’s possibility of violence at every moment, whether it’s against Robert, Susanne or even himself. Spielmann’s repetitive use of the wood chopping is almost pornographic, suggesting either it’s groundwork for its significance later in the movie, or that at any time Alex, who is so wound up, could lose control, chop off a finger, or lose a limb.
Revanche succeeds masterfully because Spielmann’s makes us love Alex, Susanne, and Robert so much that we desperately want all of them to achieve their dreams and make good for themselves.
Revanche, nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar in 2009, has just received the Criterion Collection treatment on Blu-Ray a format’s which render’s Spielmann’s compositions sharp and immaculate.