Revanche (2008) is Austrian writer/director Götz Spielmann’s first film to receive a proper release in North America. Its rhythm is strange and its images striking. It's immediately engaging. We have the story about the ex-con bouncer/thief in love with the Ukrainian dancer/hooker brushing against that of the childless marriage between the country cop and his stay-at-home wife desperate to connect. The parallels between these soon-to-be tangled threads are as fascinating as the obvious differences. There’s a stupid plan to escape that goes bad, a death that shouldn’t have happened, a reunion between a son and his ailing widowed father, and a lot of rage buried within the younger male characters, ready to burst apart and shatter lives. In keeping with its intertwining tales, Revanche boasts an impressive series of balances: street smarts with bucolic serenity, formal austerity with narrative density, noir mechanics with a strange, lingering optimism. Hints of The Postman Always Rings Twice (46) or Criss Cross (49) intermingle with a stoic humanism and somewhat romantic view of nature, making a cocktail that defies genre.
Spielmann is exacting in his compositions and the memorable arrangement of his sequences, such as the brief, single-shot scenes that take us from a character’s entrance to sex in the shower to post-coital naked pizza eating. Our reticent antihero—the bouncer/thief, played with immense presence by Johannes Krisch, looking like a bassist in a Norwegian metal band—has quite a lot of sex actually, and also chops a lot of wood for dad, yet there isn’t a moment here that feels superfluous. Indeed, if it weren’t for the quiet beauty and mystery of the film, and the emotional texture of the performances, Revanche would probably feel almost too carefully calculated. But Spielmann is tracing a process here, allowing grand, difficult, internal decisions to be arrived at and manifested, allowing the gravity and meaning of events to slowly seep in to his characters’ conscious minds, leading up to a truly intriguing variation on the whole idea of the revenge narrative.
Among the supplements here is Spielmann’s first film, the 45-minute Foreign Land (84), which like Revanche investigates the transformative effects of nature. It’s about a kid left at the family farm to learn how to work the land that will one day be his. Cows are milked, pigs are fed, tourists in funny outfits arrive. Not a lot happens, but this is a charming film with a special sensitivity to place and mood that should make viewers curious about what else Spielmann’s been doing in the decades between these two films.