Revenge, or the desire for revenge, can gnaw at the soul. Or so I'm told. In Gotz Spielmann's Oscar-nominated drama Revanche, a simple criminal waits and works in a sleepy town, his true motives simmering just below the surface.
Alex (Johannes Krisch) is an ex-con who works as a bouncer at a brothel, where he has fallen in love with one of the outfit's best hookers (Irina Potapenko). To start a new life for the both of them, Alex devises a simple and safe plan to rob a bank and make a getaway. But after a chance encounter with a local police officer named Robert (Andreas Lust), Alex is forced to go to work on his aging father's farm, but all the while he plots the revenge he feels he deserves. Ursula Strauss stars as Robert's wife.
I went into Revanche blind, knowing very little about the production other than it had been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of 2009 and what turned out to be the basic setup for the plot. I didn't even know that "revanche" is French for "revenge." In other words, I saw the movie how more movies should be seen: with no preconceived ideas or expectations.
With that said, Revanche is a beautifully directed and powerfully acted drama. The screenplay, also by Spielmann, is powerful and poetic. Enhanced by Spielmann's camerawork of the small town, the picture feels large and small at the same time; it hints at the possibility that things could explode, and yet at times, especially when Alex is at work on the farm, feels very claustrophobic. The thought of revenge lurks just out of sight in every moment of the picture, an elephant in the room that only the main character and audience knows.
Krisch is excellent in the lead role; he's a criminal and one responsible for many things, but more than anything else he's just a flawed individual looking to make things right - or at least "right" in the way that he sees things. This allows the audience to relate to him and even like him, even if his intentions are uncalled for or downright sinister. He doesn't mean to do evil, but his means to an end continue to nudge him down a dangerous path that becomes harder and harder to escape.
The supporting cast, especially Susanne, is also superb.
Revanche is a powerful drama, even though the performances are subdued, the story harmless. It's the fact that Spielmann recognizes that the audience merely needs to know that something bad is or could happen that allows him to take a seemingly innocent narrative and turn it on its head. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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