REVIEW: DVD Release: Revanche

Film: Revanche
Release date: 16th August 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 121 mins
Director: Götz Spielmann
Starring: Johannes Krisch, Ursula Strauss, Andreas Lust
Genre: Thriller/Crime/Drama
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: Austria

Celebrated Austrian writer and director Götz Spielmann’s 2008 revenge thriller Revanche premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival to critical acclaim. It won and was nominated for numerous international film awards, including a nomination for the 2009 Acadamy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Tamara (Irina Potapenko) is a Ukrainian prostitute working in a Viennese brothel. Her boyfriend, Alex (Johannes Krisch) - an ex-con - works behind the bar, although they keep their relationship a strict secret from sinister brothel owner, Konecny (Hanno Pöschl).

When Alex becomes aware of Konecny’s plans to hole up Tamara in a private flat for regular use by his wealthier clientele, he decides to go through with his plan to rob a bank and flee town, providing them with the money to leave Vienna and start a new life together. The robbery however, goes badly wrong - Tamara is accidentally shot by a local police officer Robert (Andreas Lust), and Alex flees to his elderly grandfather’s farmhouse in the country.

Through strange coincidence, Alex meets and begins an affair with the policeman’s wife (Ursula Strauss), and we watch as he contemplates his revenge on her husband, the man he feels is responsible for his terrible misfortunes…

There’s nothing truly wrong with Revanche. It’s artfully shot, well scripted, and well acted. The narrative is perfectly functional, and there are a few moments of genuine tension – the bank robbery, in particular, is beautifully executed. The problem is that there really isn’t anything new here. It all feels strangely familiar, and you realise that somewhere along the line you’ve seen all this before. The downtrodden hooker; the sadistic, controlling pimp; the clueless boyfriend; a robbery that goes wrong - these are characters and situations that have been rehashed countless times, and while they all serve their purpose adequately in Revanche, Speilmann certainly isn’t here to give us a new slant on any of them.

One technical flaw is unavoidable: the first act, which establishes the characters of Tamara and Alex, is far too long. What could have been covered in ten minutes here takes more near forty, and the result is that by the time we get into the real ‘meat’ of the film, it feels like we have to make a radical change of direction because so much time has been dedicated to the setup. In fact, this same sense of changing priorities pervades the film, and results in a confusing and over-elaborate feel which detracts from the overall story. It feels as if Spielmann is unsure exactly which film he wanted to make, so has segmented together several stories, and we snake progressively through each over the course of the film. The result is a story which feels clunky, contrived and frankly unsatisfying.

Despite these problems with the plot, though, there is much here to be admired. Revanche is nicely slowly paced. Spielmann certainly doesn’t rush things. It feels exact and precise, in the style of so many Austrian filmmakers, and it suits the macabre, sombre subject matter beautifully. The stark Austrian countryside is shot masterfully in washed out greens and stark whites, each scene immaculately composed and full of brooding chill. Krisch and Potapenko both give robust, convincing performances, but the actors who standout from the crowd are Andreas Lust as the guilt-stricken policeman and Hanno Pöschl as the domineering brothel owner Konecny, who roles out a very good line in sleazy creep, not dissimilar from Gerard Depardieu’s recent turn in Mesrine.

Speilmann also displays a refreshingly direct and unflinching attitude to sex. It does, however, perhaps occupy a little too much of his interest, as often sex seems to dominate and inform many areas of the film where it contributes little to the characters or the plot development. For example, it is maybe due to a lack of judicious editing from the bloated, early act which dwells on the sex industry Tamara and Alex inhabit that the film ends up dragging on well past ninety minutes. For a premise as simple as a revenge story following a robbery, this is really quite testing.

With Revanche, Speilmann has crafted a stylish, tasteful film with an awful lot in its favour. Unfortunately, too often it doesn’t quite hang together as it should, the plot strays into the realms of far-fetched and contrived, and it feels that too often Speilmann is reliant on old standard clichés rather than striving to plough new furrows. Definitely a director to watch, but sadly Revanche’s faults stop it from being the brilliant thriller it could - and should - have been. LOZ

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