Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Revanche

Reviews - Revanche


Reviewed By John Stakes

Occasionally the marketing men in the film industry choose to apply a misleading label to a film to entice a wider audience. Austrian writer/director Götz Spielmann's most recent Oscar contender (his third in the category of "Best Foreign language Film" the previous two being The Stranger and Antares) is his 2008 Revanche which was screened last Sunday to a captivated audience. Trailered as a European "film noir" and set amongst the low life of Vienna, the film's early scenes displayed the hallmarks of the genre with its Viennese brothel setting complete with greasy pimp Konecny and his likeable dogsbody Alex who has more than just a soft spot for Ukrainian prostitute Tamara.

However, this noirish start was just one of the many sleights of hand deftly displayed by one of Europe's leading directors. At the heart of this story was a good old-fashioned, taut and ultimately rounded morality tale in which the narrative and plot convolutions normally associated with the noir genre gave way to a much simpler and entirely character driven tale mostly played out in Austria’s rustic hinterland.

It is in this rural setting that the lives of three grieving males trying to cope with loss and one frustrated childless married woman gradually intertwine at a measured pace entirely in tune with their rural surroundings. Alex (a great performance from Johannes Krisch) has lost girlfriend Tamara who has been unintentionally shot dead by policeman Robert in the aftermath of a bank heist. Alex hides out at the home of his ailing grandfather Hausner who has recently lost his wife, and decides to help out at the same time giving vent to his spleen by chopping up copious amounts of wood and nursing his desire for revenge on the police. Robert is consumed by guilt over Tamara's death to the point of being unable to work and to communicate with his wife Susanne who has recently had a miscarriage. As Robert and Susanne are near neighbours of Hausner it is not long before Alex and Susanne meet.

Their rough-house first coupling is prompted by Susanne’s desire to have a baby and frustration over Robert's refusal to open up to her. Eventually Robert and Alex meet and Alex learns of Robert’s sense of guilt. They both recognise that they share responsibility for Tamara's death. In the midst of all this Susanne becomes pregnant again (this time to Alex) and learns of Alex's part in the heist. All three characters are now so locked into each other that their secrets become secure (though only Susanne knows the whole truth) and Alex begins to settle into his grandfather's life when the old man takes a turn for the worse.

Spielmann's wonderful film of faith, love, loss, guilt, remorse, revenge and redemption proved constantly engrossing. The acting, from a cast of home grown actors and relative unknowns to these shores, was impeccable, and served to underline the rustic authenticity of the film. The frank attitude to sex was refreshingly honest and natural, and never gratuitous. The scene of Tamara's death was an essay in less becoming more, and the final revelatory scenes were a model of looks conveying more than words. What the future for all involved might hold became a matter of
fascinating speculation.

Whilst there was a touch of Haneke, Chabrol, Raimi (A Simple Plan) and Fargo in places, Spielmann stamped his own authority on this film and delivered a worthy Oscar contender. A Hollywood remake would surely strip it of all its nuances and subtlety, and unnecessarily crank up the pacing? The Alhambra audience clearly took it to their hearts. What an absorbing season this is turning out to be! Could this be explained by the fact that in all the films to date the director has also written the screenplay?

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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