Dir: Goetz Spielmann. Austria, 2008. 122 mins.
Goetz Spielman's thrilling film noir moves from the sleazy slums of Vienna to the rolling green pastures of the Austrian countryside, but neither turns out as expected in this jaundiced view of human relations (which the director has already explored in his early films, most notably Antares). As his motley crew of characters shift - slowly - from crime to tragedy and a burning desire for revenge, the intricate plotting sometimes stretches credibility but exemplary performances from the entire cast and superlative camera work by Martin Gschlacht keep the ship afloat. This may be less flashy than its fellow Oscar Best Foreign Film nominees, but there's more than enough in Revanche to attract solid arthouse box office on an international level.
Alex (Krisch) is a sleazy ex-con, currently working as a driver for a Viennese pimp and having an affair with Tamara (Potapenko), one of his boss's girls. At the same time, in a picturesque little village not far from Vienna, young career cop Robert (Lust) and his charming wife Susanne (Strauss) are working hard on having a baby after a previous miscarriage. And Alex's grandfather lives close by on a country farm; Susanne picks him up every Sunday to attend church.
Once Spielmann has established the groundwork, he moves cash-hungry Alex into play; he decides to rob the tiny village bank but Tamara insists on coming along and in the best film noir tradition, policeman Robert happens by, pulls out his gun to stop the runaway couple, and Tamara is accidentally killed. Alex makes his escape and overcome, by grief and frustration, hides in his grandfather's farm, where, after a while, he meets Susanne, paying one of her regular visits to the lonely old man. Once he realizes she is the wife of the cop who shot Tamara, the case for revenge becomes inevitable.
Directed soberly, and holding back from emotionally-enhancing artifices such as music, Spielmann follows the intricate storyline from a respectful distance. He may take his sweet time until he gets to the real conflict lying at the heart of the film, but once he gets there, he has a firm grip on the events which transpire. Martin Gschlacht's sensitive lensing underlines the transition from the squalor of Vienna's cathouses the open air of the country, but the film's best feature is its tremendously effective performances, particularly from Johannes Krisch and Ursula Strauss. Octogenarian Hannes Thanheiser who plays Alex's grandfather, offers in his own way, some of the picture's most moving moments.
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