Alex (Johannes Krisch) loves him some Tamara (Irina Potapenko). Just by looking at Tamara you could see why Alex is so vexed by the Ukrainian woman as she is very beautiful, has a set of legs extend all the way to heaven and the girl is also is very kind. Now if one were to nitpick and try to find a flaw with Tamara we could point out that she is also a cocaine addicted prostitute. But ex-con Alex who works at Tamara’s brothel as a handyman / gopher / security type dude could care less because he would do anything for her and it seems she feels the same about him, which launches this movie from Austrian director Gotz Spielman ‘Revanche’.
Away from the busy harsh city of Vienna where Alex and Tamara are living their less than ideal lives, we meet the countryside couple of Robert (Andreas Lust) and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss). Robert is a local police officer craving some kind of action to break the monotony of it all and Susanne is a supermarket employee. The two have carved out a pleasant and comfortable life but the one thing that is missing is the child they both so desperately want, with this desire not made any easier by the fertileness of their friends and the pressure from their parents.
Back to Alex who has a plan. Tamara is more sex slave than prostitute because she owes the pimp of her establishment a hefty sum and as such is pretty much forced to work off this debt through whoring. Alex figures he’ll bust his girl out of bondage, rob this bank that he’s been casing and then the two will run off to Spain or somewhere to begin their new glorious lives together. Tamara thinks this is an absolutely terrible idea because for one she thinks her life is just fine – which should alert you as to how life in the Ukraine must be for some - and she only agrees to go along with Alex’s plan if she is allowed to tag along.
The plan is all go ahead, the bank is thusly robbed and things seem to go smoothly until our couple run into our action starved cop Robert and tragedy is unavoidable. Devastated, Alex descends to the ranch of his elderly grandfather (Johannes
Thanheiser) to work off his grief, a grandfather who is often visited by the wife of the cop who accidentally shot his true love, as Susanne does community service by taking granddad to church and stuff. On the other side of the woods Robert has descended into a deep depression completely unable to deal with what he has done.
Without giving too much away things get complicated really quick. Alex wants revenge against the cop, his hatred growing by the minute. Robert wants his pain, frustration and his run of bad luck to come to an end and his wife just wants to have a baby. Granddad just wants to play that damn accordion. Thanks a lot for reawakening that desire in the old guy Susanne. Thanks. Not everybody is going to get what they want. Except Granddad and that damned accordion he won’t stop playing.
Director Gotz Spielman plays the notes of his Oscar nominated film almost perfectly. At the heart of this extremely effective drama are the characters that Spielman has written who feel about as real and as authentic as any you will ever have the pleasure of watching. We are presented with two couples who are at polar ends of the social spectrum who really aren’t all that different from each other once you peel away how they are presented to us on the surface. Driving the film is a fabulous performance from Johannes Krisch who gives a real sense of humanity to his career criminal character of Alex. How Alex managed to stumble into a life of crime isn’t made very clear, but we can see through Krisch’s conflicted performance why he’s not all that great at it for as a character earlier in the film has informed him, he’s just too soft. This is a cat who is in love with a prostitute and who doesn’t see her for what she is but what she could possibly be, but he doesn’t seem to have much a of problem rousting other drugged out whores into doing their whore duties. He doesn’t seem all that interested in hurting people and has a work ethic like few others, but he still finds bank robbery as a viable career move. His inconsistent personality traits keep the audience on edge, and make whatever decisions he will end up making floating up in the air until the time comes.
There’s a lot going on narrative wise in ‘Revanche’ mostly driven by the particular traits and desires of the characters we are watching. If the movie has a flaw it would be that we don’t know much about the characters before we’ve met them which lead to some gaps in understanding them just a little bit, and there is a convenience factor in the story that we have to buy into, factors which are critical because it brings all these characters together in a certain way for the story to progress and it is a bit of a stretch.
Nonetheless ‘Revanche’ is very smart, dark and brooding tale which doesn’t cop out by giving us simple characters with easy answers to their complex problems. A fine piece of cinema and one of the better films I’ve seen this year.