Film Reviews

Revanche Götz Spielmann

Rating - 8/10

The opening shot of Götz Spielmann's Revanche captures the shady reflection of scattered pine trees in a pond.  An unexpected splash then occurs as an object is thrown into the water, producing undulations that disturb the sweeping serenity of the image.  Within this one minute, the director metaphorically summarizes the forthcoming narrative, indicating the unforeseen repercussions of a single action.  Film critic Armond White describes this initial sequence as "an otherworldly illusion (that) arouses a viewer's awareness of perspective" and creates a genuine sense of mystery in the director's unique vision.  Essentially, Revanche is an ingenuous account of the contrast between rural and urban climates, coping with inner turmoil, and the intricate labyrinth of human relationships.  Reflections utilized throughout the film (particularly in the brothel mirrors and windows of vehicles and homes) capture the dimension of unspoken dilemma and craft an ambiguity and existentialism that lure the viewer into an engrossing interconnected puzzle.

As the narrative unravels, topographical and character associations are adjoined through the migration from the urban to rural.  Many American films of the last decade have often been transfixed on the seedy underbelly of suburbia, but the Austrian-born director avoids these thematic platitudes by illuminating a sharper contrast of the film's eventual move from metropolitan area to countryside.  In a Criterion interview, Spielmann states that the city "is a world that lives by its appearances," which is directly complementary to his depiction in Revanche.  The tribulations in the Vienna brothel, "Cinderella," are fundamentally unequivocal and aggressively flagrant.  In the film, young Ukrainian prostitute Tamara is beaten by one of her customers, an unsubtle physical message from her pimp to obey his request to accept a new apartment to service high politicians and bank him a greater sum of money.  Desperate to remove herself from the violent intimidation, she flees with boyfriend and main protagonist Alex, which leads to further criminal circumstance.  In the rather unintended message of 'crime begets crime,' the couple hopes to ensure new lives for themselves by resorting to Alex's heist of a nearby bank.  Once a bullet from the gun of a policeman fatally wounds Tamara in a stolen car, the film shifts its locale to Alex's grandfather's modest villa tucked away in the rustic landscape.  It's here that Alex shoulders a private grief and cultivates a mounting hatred toward mankind, but it outwardly reveals itself as temporary productivity, and Alex's self-reproach is channeled into chores, such as chopping firewood for his increasingly incapable relative.  To the few inhabitants of the area, his cold and pensive demeanor reflects a man enduring a dark secret as he appears unable to cope with the true intensity and responsibility of loss.  It's also in this environment where Alex encounters Susi and Robert, a married couple independently struggling with pregnancy and Robert's traumatic accidental murder during his job as a police officer, a direct link to Alex's present woes.

The increasing presence of the grandfather's neighbors, Susi and Robert, grounds the film in themes of veiled loss with the direct association to Tamara.  While Susi's inability to conceive a child remains a secondary plot point, the overwhelming anxiety is devoted to the two men's coping mechanisms.  Alex posts a portrait of Tamara on his bedroom wall and mournfully glares at it with a sense of love and vengeance every night before sleep.  Coincidentally and correspondingly, Robert obtains a lifeless photograph from the crime scene and methodically studies it at the pond in the woods during the lull in his exercise routine.  During a late night argument, Alex overhears the couple discussing the incident, which prompts his obsession of their activities; he then convinces himself that Tamara's death was negligent and goes without proper psychological or palpable ramifications.  In actuality, much like Alex, Robert's traumatization conceals his emotions and forces him to bear a rather stoic persona in order to maintain his generally unassuming male spousal role.  In a crucial scene, Robert is surprised to find Alex lounging on a bench by the pond; still disguising an unbridled rage, Alex attempts to pry personal details from the shooting.  Rationally exhibiting a sense of humanity, Robert confesses his confused mental state, displaying selflessness and relinquishing his inhibitions ("Let him track me down"), but he concludes by rhetorically questioning the robber's foolish intensions to have the woman present for the robbery.  "Why did he take her as if it were an outing?  The whole mess happened, because she was there for no reason," Robert professes.  As he leaves, Alex mercifully lays down his guard and hurls his pistol into the pond, at once echoing the opening sequence and reflecting a revised mental state of forgiveness and acceptance of his own misjudgment.  Armond White's quote concerning the awareness of perspective peaks at this precise moment, suggesting that anger is an irrational cloud to the universal vision of a given situation, and clarity is only revealed through human empathy.  However, it is also within this concept that Spielmann derives a sense of existentialism; rather than seeking a concrete resolution, he commits to the path of the story that authentically reflects its milieu.  By evading unanimous justification, the director hopes to transcend overly analytical or conscious thought in order to capture the complex beauty of human life.

While Revanche may often stray into somewhat mystical realms by the dominance of its naturalistic beauty, the film remains an untainted yet tense work of its director who intended to "come as close to chaos and the unordered as possible but only to the point where the story is still coherent."  In its essence, this ideology lends Revanche to the mystery genre rather than the apparent drama between intersecting human relationships.  This amalgamation of the two genres paired with an innate experimentalism from Spielmann's methods pushes the boundaries of cinema in an unusual direction.  Still, the film remains a traditionally linear exercise without a sense of manipulation by a musical score or heightened suspense by superfluous skirmishes or depravity.  Spielmann further describes the film in terms of cadence and rhythm to elevate its coincidence with nature; the lingering static shots in the film provide it with a unique memory and verisimilitude.  To "produce a stillness that vibrates with energy," as he conveys, is crucial to the film's visual grandeur and prolonged influence.  While the picture may ultimately document irresolution of one man's journey, thus abandoning questions of the grandfather's health, Susi's pregnancy, and the state of the "Cinderella" brothel, this is an intentional result of the existential means of the film's conception.  Almost didactic in approach and defying preexisting narrative notions, Revanche departs in an unassuming tranquil breath, leaving the audience in an awestruck appreciation of its form.