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DVD Review: REVANCHE



Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 2008
Cast: Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, Ursula Strauss, Johannes Thanheiser, Hanno Pˆschl
Director: Gˆtz Spielmann
Release Date: February 16, 2010
Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, violence, adult themes)
Run Time: 02h:01m:00s
Genre(s): film noir, romance, drama, foreign

REVANCHE

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This German-language film may frustrate audiences anticipating fiery conflicts in the scummy criminal world.

Movie Grade: B+

DVD Grade: B+

Nominated for a 2009 Foreign Language Film Oscar and released quickly by Criterion, Revanche arrives on DVD with major expectations. Critics have raved about its surprising genre shifts, particularly in its subversion of the revenge picture. Produced in Austria, this German-language film may frustrate audiences anticipating fiery conflicts in the scummy criminal world. The result is something more poignant if you're ready to follow its deliberate path.

Writer/Director Gotz Spielman's work is mostly unknown in the U.S. beyond a few experts well-versed in European cinema. This was my first experience with his style, which tackles familiar subject matter with a cerebral approach. In the lengthy DVD interview, Spielman muses on a wide array of heavy issues. He comes off as extremely pretentious, but it's possible that attitude is needed to deliver his brand of art. I'll admit that his manner of speaking is off-putting and a bit ridiculous, yet this picture does tackle some intriguing themes.

The story begins in the rougher side of Vienna, where prostitutes and small-time criminals do their best to eke out a living. Alex (Johannes Krisch) lives in a sloppy apartment and works at a nearby brothel where his striking girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko) entertains clients. The men who frequent this location are low-end scumbags with little respect for anyone. Even her boss' (Hanno Pˆschl) friendly demeanor masks an uncaring need to dominate his employees. Little good can happen in this type of place. Seeking a way to help Tamara escape this life, Alex devises a scheme to rob a nearby bank with an unloaded gun. It's an unfortunate move with no real plan for dealing with any complications. Alex repeatedly states that înothing can go wrong,î trying to convince himself that it's actually a good idea. Although his intentions are noble, there are plenty of reasons to avoid this course of action.

Spielman shoots the early scenes with a sexual frankness that might surprise American audiences. Both brothel sequences and the intimate home scenes between Alex and Tamara don't shy away from reality. Strategically placed bed sheets and flattering camera angles don't exist in this world. The approach isn't designed to please the audience and instead creates a better understanding of the characters and their relationships. The opening scenes between Alex and Tamara reveal a comfort level that contrasts drastically between her interactions at work. It's a real relationship that might actually overcome this difficult environment.

At its middle point, the film takes a surprising turn and moves into a slow-moving rural setting. The tension and internal conflicts actually increase in this setting and anticipate a possible violent end. I won't give away the plot switches that occur, but I will say that they involve a second couple, Robert (Andreas Lust) and Susanne (Ursula Strauss). Although living in a much-different world, they're also struggling to come to terms with a difficult situation. When their lives intersect with Alex and Tamara, the results are unpredictable and captivating. The second half moves along deliberately and can be frustrating when compared to the more energetic start. Spielman struggles to keep the story moving and probably could have chopped 15-20 minutes without losing the impact. The ultimate end is satisfying, even while the journey takes its toll on our interest level.

The Criterion Collection has provided a solid release with a bonus disc of a few interesting extras. Along with the interview I mentioned earlier, there's a half-hour behind-the-scenes feature that gives a worthy look at the production. It's not fascinating but avoids offering any promotional or back-slapping comments. Spielman fans should also enjoy his debut short Foreign Land, produced in 1984 while he was a student. That picture is extremely slow but shows indications of his current style. Critic Armond White provides the standard Criterion text essay, and it's a well-written piece. Revanche is the type of film that will earn major accolades from some critics while dividing audiences. I enjoyed the way it diverged from my expectations, particularly in the low-key conclusion. I'd stray from calling it a ìclassicî but give a solid recommendation if you're looking for something a bit different from the latest indie crime drama.

Posted by: Dan Heaton - February 27, 2010, 11:46 am - DVD Review
Keywords: austria, film noir, oscars




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