Vengeance Is… Austrian

04/29/2009 4:00 AM |


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
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
, 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

Opens May 1 at IFC Center

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