Film Review – Revanche

Mark Hoskins reviews 2008 Austrian heist thriller, Revanche, showing this month at Dublin’s IFI.

The title conjures up images of a high octane thriller where Mel Gibson frantically tracks down the ruthless gang who murdered his family. Revanche however, written by acclaimed Austrian playwright Götz Spielman, tends more towards Greek tragedy and ironically this is its downfall.

The film starts promisingly enough. Brothel worker Alex and his Ukranian prostitute girlfriend Tamara are trapped in a life of crime and violence. Alex’s desire to escape and build a better life for both of them leads him to plan a bank robbery in the sleepy village where he grew up. The plan is flawless but when Tamara insists on coming along for the ride a tragic outcome is inevitable.

Tragedy strikes in the form of small town cop Robert, who after stumbling upon the getaway opens fire, killing Tamara. From here the action revolves around Alex’s plan for revenge and a series of unlikely events that lead to a brief affair with the police officer’s wife Susanne who has been caring for his grandfather.

Revanche is at its best while exploring the murky depths of Vienna’s criminal underworld. There’s no glamorising the world of Cinderella, the strip club and brothel where Alex and Tamara ply their respective trades. Brothel owner Konecny is a vile character who pretends to care for his employees but shows his true violent face when they go against his wishes.

Alex is no hero either. Though he loves Tamara, he is possessive and violent and in this sense his plans for escape are futile. The world that has made him who he is will follow him wherever he goes and his actions are driven by jealousy more than a genuine desire to see his lover free herself from male domination.

After the tragic death of Tamara, Alex relocates to his grandfather’s farm where his affair with Susanne the policeman’s wife becomes a distraction from the main plot. The tryst is intended to be seen as an unintentional form of revenge more subtle than his plan to kill Robert but it is somewhat unbelievable and at times melodramatic. Ultimately, the change of pace is distracting and the viewer may find themselves with feelings of nostalgia for the sleazy vice dens of Vienna.

Spielman’s dialogue gives away his stage background. This is particularly problematic in the relationship between Alex and Susanne. Perhaps some will describe it as creating a feeling of Brechtian alienation. My personal feeling is that it is clumsy and at times, on the nose. Film is a visual medium and everything else is secondary to what you can see on screen. Anything that strikes us as performance diminishes the cinematic experience and drags us out of the world of the story. This is Revanche’s biggest flaw.