Revanche (Janus Films, NR)

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film_revanche_sm.jpgThere are connections which I wouldn't dream of spoiling; watching them unfold is one of the great pleasures of this quiet film.








Sometimes style really is everything. Revanche, by Austrian director Götz Spielmann, could have been another Crash/Babel/Traffic clone in which the interlocking stories of otherwise-unrelated characters demonstrate the scriptwriter's cleverness while attempting to showcase his profound insights into the human condition. But Spielmann, who also wrote the screenplay, chooses to forgo the bombast, and instead presents stories on a human scale which create a sense of wonder about how strange life can be.

The characters in Revanche (the title means "revenge") are ordinary people doing the best they can in a world which hasn't always been kind to them. Ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) works at the ironically named brothel Cinderella and hopes to make a break for it with the beautiful Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a Ukrainian émigré working at Cinderella. But she owes $30,000 and has become a particular object of affection for the brothel owner Konecny (Hanno Pöschl), who wants to set her up in a private flat to service higher-paying clientele (and most likely himself as well). So Alex holds up a bank and, in the ensuing getaway, Tamara is shot and killed by the young policeman Robert (Andreas Lust).

Alex holes up at his grandfather Hausner's (Johannes Thanheiser) house in a small country village, chopping wood in the barn while the old man plays tunes on the accordion in a scene which underlines the distance between an apparently bucolic paradise and the reality of Alex's situation. Their neighbors include Robert and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), whose peaceful lives are marred only by their difficulty in conceiving a child. Susanne has become accustomed to checking in on Hausner and gives him a ride to church on Sunday. Because Alex wore a ski mask during the robbery, Robert is unaware that Alex is the robber he shot at, although Alex knows that Robert killed Tamara and is planning revenge.

There are more connections which I wouldn't dream of spoiling; watching them unfold is one of the great pleasures of this quiet film. Rather than showing off or preaching, Spielmann simply invites us to enter the world of his characters for a few hours so we can experience their lives and understand their decisions. All the acting is superb, with Lust particularly good as the tormented policemen and Thanheiser as the aging patriarch.

Revanche has no music soundtrack, which heightens the sense that we are viewing real people living real lives. It also intensifies the film's sense of place: In the village we hear country sounds, in Vienna we hear city sounds. The quiet cinematography by Martin Gschlacht underscores the film's emphasis on characters rather than action while placing the characters in very specific contexts, from the cheesiness of the brothel with its red flocked wallpaper to the stillness of the seemingly endless Austrian forest. | Sarah Boslaugh

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