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by Jay Seaver

"A quietly impressive bit of work."
5 stars

The Best Foreign Language Film Oscar often drives film nuts crazy. The countries' film boards don't submit the movie we consider their nation's masterpiece for the year, and then at every cut (short list, nominees, winner) we get a little more agitated, wondering how this film which we haven't heard a single decibel of buzz on makes the cut, and we can't even see it to form an opinion. At least, not until it sneaks unheralded into a boutique cinema for a week and we say, okay, maybe "Revanche" belonged there.

Revanche was Austria's submission, and after a brief glimpse at a quietly domestic scene in the country with policeman Robert (Andreas Lust) and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), we're in Vienna, where ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) works at the Cinderella club/brothel, tidying the rooms and keeping the bar stocked. He's dating one of the more visible employees, Ukranian immigrant Tamara (Irina Potapenko). Alex isn't really a bad guy; he rides out to his grandfather Hausner's farm on his days off to cut the old man's firewood. When Cinderella's "manager" Konecny (Hanno Poschl) starts pressuring her to leave the club and into an apartment he'd rent for her, Alex decides to push their plan to move to Spain forward. That takes money, though Alex has a plan for that, one that just can't fail.

Let's stop there, because that brings us up to the point where everything changes. Writer/director Götz Spielmann doesn't so much throw a plot twist our way as allow a scene we've seen hundreds of times to play out realistically, and then track the aftermath of it. The movie slows down for this, pushing one set of subplots aside for another, but for the most part this works. One development seems kind of arbitrary and forced, but most of the rest seems natural. The second half of the movie becomes much more somber when we realize that we haven't heard from this character in a while, so maybe Alex and Tamara just aren't as important as a movie would generally make them. The pressures on the characters in the second half are internal and self-inflicted, rather than the result of outside pressure.

The cast handles that wonderfully. Johannes Krisch and Irina Potapenko have a chemistry that is passionate but private; they've each come to an understanding of what is and isn't safe in the quasi-legal world they live in. Krisch manages to infuse a little more optimism into his character despite his being worn-down by years and jail time, while Potapenko manages to communicate a pragmatic intelligence despite speaking imperfect German, if the subtitles are a proper guide. Andreas Lust and Ursula Strauss give us a couple that is a bit more strained; they're in a newly-completed house with a nursery that was completed before Susi miscarried in her third month of pregnancy, but going through the motions of their life. Lust does a fine job of playing Robert as a proud cop who feels unmanned, and Strauss gives perhaps the best in a film full of fine performances as the wife who finds a certain amount of happiness opening up to her elderly neighbor. Hannes Thanheiser has a nice bead on that old farmer, too, playing Hausner's pride and physical fragility in a believable balance, giving him enough individuality that he's always "Hausner", rather than just "the old man".

As impressive as Spielmann's story and cast is, though, what impressed me the most was how he put the movie together. The lovemaking scenes of the movie's various couples establish their relationships and the tone of that section of the film, for instance, and I think it's actually a while before we learn Tamara's actual name (she's referred to as "Angel" often enough that we don't realize it's her "work name" until Alex calls her something else, cementing that he is not like the other men in her life). The pacing he and editor Karina Ressler establish is impressive; this is a two hour movie whose second half is filled with more introspection than activity that almost never seems to drag. Spielmann, Ressler, and cinematographer Marti Gschlacht also put on a clinic on how to establish the details of a location when the action of a scene may depend on that information. The photography itself is striking and put to good use; I'm a little bit in awe of a crucial shot where the play of light across a lake's surface seems to further bury something that has been thrown in.

I saw "Revanche" a bit by accident; the theater was in the direction I felt like walking that afternoon and I was actively avoiding the other film playing there. It's a thoroughly impressive film, well deserving of the bit of attention its nomination has given it here, and then some.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17709&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/05/09 15:07:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Traverse City Film Festival 2009 For more in the Traverse City Film Festival 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

6/13/11 Shaz Empty, phony, lurid and contrived. 3 stars
9/17/08 denny one of our festival favs; thoughtful 5 stars
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  01-May-2009 (NR)
  DVD: 16-Feb-2010


  DVD: 23-Feb-2010

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