Revanche (Day 77)
My Opinion: 8.0 || Starts as a thriller before evolving into a meditative character study. Some character turns give you pause, but the tone is beautifully calibrated, and the conclusion arrives with subtle power.
DIRECTOR: Götz Spielmann
LANGUAGE: German | COUNTRY: Austria
PROFILE: Drama | 121 minutes | IMDb (7.5)
SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): Ex-con Alex plans to flee to the South with his girl after a robbery. But something terrible happens and revenge seems inevitable.
Strengths: The movie is filled with traps, not for the audience but for the director (Götz Spielmann). But every time the film veers toward the cliff of thriller cliché, Spielmann turns instead toward subtlety and depth.
At its best, the film resembles Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which employs a similarly understated style — more interested in evoking moments than dramatizing events. In both films, the natural environment receives patient attention. Silence is used to great effect, with characters communicating as much through the unsaid as the said. And neither director is interested in providing tidy summaries or explanations. Call it an aesthetic of inference.
Weaknesses: The latter part of the film is driven by a development that requires us to accept a surprising character decision. Nothing we know about the character Susanne explains the decision she makes — leading to a “hmm, okay . . .” reaction. The strength of acting and direction makes it work, but the development never feels completely convincing.
More broadly, the protagonist Alex remains too much of a blank throughout the film. That’s due in part to the performance of Johannes Krisch, which is strong in many respects but a little too opaque. More, though, it traces back to Spielmann’s otherwise effective minimalism. The Dardennes brothers’ The Kid With A Bike (an even better film), exhibits the same problem: tilting a little too far toward understatement by leaving crucial motivations unexplored. The story here turns on Alex’s less than rational longing for revenge. But we never know enough about his past to understand where his need springs from — or to infer, at the end, what its resolution means.
I can imagine some viewers being impatient with the pacing — the film may set a record for the amount of wood chopped in real time. (Okay, maybe not.) It all worked well for me. But then I also enjoy Stalker.
Characters/Performances: The standout performance belongs to Ursula Strauss, whose character Susanne winds up being the film’s emotional center. As mentioned above, her character makes a crucial decision that strains credulity — not because it’s inherently far-fetched but because Spielmann doesn’t do enough to set it up — but Strauss does a lovely job of selling it. It’s a nuanced and quietly charismatic performance.
Best Moment: The concluding scene provides a perfect distillation of the minimalist aesthetic. Subtle but very effective.
File Under: revenge, robbery, prostitution, illegal immigration, Götz Spielmann, minimalism, mortality, detailed wood chopping