Directed by Götz Spielmann
In the years following 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which segments of the American public boiled with tooth-for-tooth bloodthirst, an influx of films grappling with the destructive effects of vengeance hit theaters courtesy studios both indie and major: Spiderman 3 and Sweeney Todd, Shotgun Stories and Red, to name a few.
Now Austria chimes in with Revanche (revenge), a gorgeously photographed almost-thriller nominated this past year for Best Foreign Film. In it, Alex, a lovestruck brothel assistant (masterfully played by Johannes Krisch), robs a bank so he can start a new life with his prostitute girlfriend. (Financial desperation is another recently popular theme: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Cassandra's Dream, etc.) It goes awry, naturally, thanks to the intervention of a policeman (Andreas Lust), and Alex spends the rest of the film holed up in the countryside, nurturing his vengelust. Spielmann doesn't engage in any of his countryman Michael Haneke's cinemasochism; rather, he revels in existential conflict: melancholic and paralyzed by inaction, Alex evokes the Gloomy Dane.
The title's looser definition ("a national policy to seek the return of lost territory") suggests a political subtext, though it's tough to spot one in scene after scene of Alex chopping wood, percolating with angst. Instead of a bloody political thriller, something quiet, complex and unexpected emerges: a moral tragi-tale sans heroes and villains. Pushed along by character instead of plot, Revanche posits anger and guilt-consumption as two sides of the same sad coin. It suggests that revenge is more complicated than exchanging eyes for eyes and, like its recent thematic precursors, that violence doesn't culminate in justice — it merely fashions victims out of both aggrieved and aggressor.
Opens May 1 at IFC Center
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