Saturday, February 21

Considering "Revanche"

I readily admit that the first thing about Revanche which captured my attention was its Austrian origin. Not that I have any particular love for the nation, having only visited Salzburg, but because that means the language will be German. Since I began taking German language classes four years ago and spent five months studying in Munich, that alone has been enough to peak my interest in a movie.

The fact that this movie received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and is, quite honestly, a mind-blowing movie is only the kicker.

The plot, ultimately, is quite simple, and ancient. It's the same principle that finally motivates Achilles to end his hissy fit and get back onto the battlefield. It's a story of revenge. Man's girlfriend is shot. Man wants to make the one who did it feel the pain he feels. Wants to kill the one who did it. But it's really not that simple. Revenge and the vigilantism which so often springs from it are clichés of American entertainment, popular clichés if the resounding success of The Dark Knight this past year is any indication. In these popular cases the sides and intentions are clear. The victim is wholly innocent, entirely blameless. The killers are vile murderers, most likely drug dealers or rapists or spoiled rich kids of some sort. The avenger has never acted in hatred before but are forced into it by a legal system which cannot give them the justice they seek. But what happens when the killing takes place in the course of a bank robbery? When happens when the killer is a good cop who is crippled by remorse? When the shooting is an accident? When the avenger already has a violent streak? Revenge is not that simple. Perhaps more difficult than it, though, is forgiveness. How does Alex move beyond his girlfriend's death? How does Robert move beyond his first kill, a terrible accident? A crucifix appears in nearly every scene of Revanche, and all of the characters are searching for redemption in some way.

The director, Götz Spielmann, aims for naturalism. There is no background score. All music which appears in this film is courtesy of Hausner, the grandfather of the main character, as he plays his accordion. There are no musical cues to indicate how a scene might turn or what our feelings should be. There are no desperately rising strings when Alex pulls a gun on Robert as he runs by. When Alex has violent sex with Susanne, Robert's wife, there is only silence beside their sharp breathing. The lack of a score emphasizes, too, the difference between the ambient noises of red-light Vienna and the forest surounding Hausner's home.

Without a score the full emotional weight of a scene must be carried by the actors, so it's fortunate that the performances across the board are outstanding. The greatest, though, may also be the most understated. There was no acting apparent in Johannes Thanheiser's performance as Hausner he inhabitated the role so completely.

In any case, though Revanche is very deserving of the Oscar, my vote goes out to Der Baader Meinhof Komplex. The AMC Theater in Spokane has done a decent job of brining in the winner of this category of the past two years, and I would very much enjoy the chance to see another German film this year. I suppose Vals Im Bashir is the front runner since its victory at the Golden Globes, but I'm assuming Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip earlier this year will put the Academy members off a little bit.

Update: At the Spokane International Film Festival, Revanche tied with Let the Right One In for Best Feature Film.

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