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A Perverse Tale of Redemption

By Phillip Stephens | Film | June 11, 2009 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | June 11, 2009 |

The title of Götz Spielmann’s film, Revanche, can be construed simply as a synonym for revenge, which is certainly a facile motivation for this dark neo-noir, but doing so misses an important political dimension in the word. Revanchism also refers to a political strategy, by a nation or ethnic bloc, to regain something lost, of pride or territory. The characters in Revanche exhibit an ethereal sense of lacking, less tangible than the title’s political connotations; theirs is a spiritual malaise created by the modern world, the specifics of which are less important than the fact of their inescapability.

On the one hand there is Alex (Johannes Krisch), a despondent ex-con adrift in his own life. His lover is Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a Ukrainian hooker living in Vienna illegally, making due in the only manner available to her. The pair, both of whom work under the same sleazy brothel magnate, have to keep their relationship a secret, sneaking episodes of lovemaking from a sterile hotel room. Both Alex and Tamara are hacking a dissolute existence out of modernity, unwilling or (more likely) unable to alter their dismal fates. Spielmann suggests the world of late-capitalism has been cruel to those who fell through the cracks of Western opulence: Alex comes from a rural home and an Old World Catholic family, Tamara is a product of post-Soviet poverty and economic exploitation. Both are doomed to spiritual displacement. Alex, finally fed up with the situation, hatches a plan to get them out - a bank robbery that we know will end in horror. Fate is not mocked.

Spielmann then introduces us to a second couple: Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and Robert (Andreas Lust), who live in the same village as Alex’s grandfather, and where the robbery will take place. Robert is a cop, and Susanne visits Alex’s farm every day to give the old man some company. The couple are quietly unhappy; Robert is impotent, and the tragic events which unfold act to highlight the tensions and inadequacies in their relationship. If Alex and Tamara embody Western modernity’s outcasts, Robert and Susanne represent an internal critique - they seem just as isolated by success as the former are isolated by failure.

The plot collision here stacks up a bit too neatly, but Spielmann seems entirely conscious of his film’s genre qualities. What really interests him in Revanche are the metaphors and implications; the film is too slow to be a crime thriller and too fast to be The Postman Always Rings Twice, it occupies a strange liminal space both taut and obtuse, something like an art noir - an appropriate setting considering its subject of capitalist subversion and the nature of revenge. Alex wants or needs retribution against Robert for derailing his lucky break, but how he gets it reveals Spielmann’s desire to construct a disturbing modern allegory of power relations. Revanche is a quietly gripping effort from a cautious director intent on whetting our senses with thrills, but then leaving us with more than we wanted to think about.

Phillip Stephens is a film critic for Pajiba.

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