Revanche (2009): Spielmann’s Taut Thriller, Austria Foreign-Language Oscar Nominee

Austrian director Goetz Spielmann’s taut thriller Revanche is one of the final nominees for the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The fifth feature from Spielmann, who’s perhaps best known for his previous, more controversial film “Antares” (2004) deals with guilt, revenge, and redemption.

The tale’s graphic sexuality might help in selling and marketing the film, which won the Europa Cinemas Label in the Panorama sidebar of the 2008 Berlin Film Festival, where it received its world premiere last February.

Set in and around Vienna, the tale centers on two  sets of characters, one urban, the other rural, whose paths crisscrossalmost fatefully in unexpected ways. The protag is former conman Alex (Johannes Krisch), who works for brothel owner Konecny (Hanno Poeschl), while secretly carrying on an affair with Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a Ukrainian prostitute.  The duo dream of a better, quieter life together.

Alex’s grandfather (Hannes Thanheiser), a cop named Robert (Andreas Lust) and his shopkeeper wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss) live a rural village just outside the big city.  They too hope for a better life, when Susanne will be able to get pregnant again after a bad miscarriage.  After robbing a bank in Robert’s village, Alex seeks refuge in his grandfather’s farm, where  the old man’s simple work ethic and friendly neighbors offer a positive change of pace.

Smartly constructed, Spielmann’s script contains some surprising twists and turns of the plot and the charcaters.  As director, Spielmann is good at creating intense ambience, without relying on music or other devices often used in the suspense-thriller genre.  Lensing by Martin Gsclacht is impressive in its simple, clear, even austere images, which are in tune with what’s essentially a psychological portrait of anguish and loneliness

Narratively and stylistically, “Revanche” is a precise and effective piece of cinema, relying on long takes, often in places where you would expect middle-range or even close-ups, and the dialogue is appropriately minimal and sparse.

Each of the characters change and transforms in the course of the story, beginning with Robert who goes through a nervous breakdown after his involvement in the botched heist.  An emotionally intimate tale, the film is well acted by the entire ensemble, but particularly Thanheiser as the wise and clam grandfather.

Oscar Context:

Revanche was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but did not win; the winner was the Japanese film, Departures.