Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

The placid surface of a woodland lake is suddenly disturbed as a falling object sends ripples circling outwards. This opening image of Götz Spielmann's Revanche (or Revenge) is at once naturalistic and symbolic, as it captures the way a single violent event can spiral and ramify, affecting everything around it. The writer/director will then devote the first half of his film to showing a set of characters and incidents coming into fateful collision, before charting the complicated aftermath, and returning us, towards the end, to that lake, and to the object that originally shattered all the reflective calm.

Ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) works as a handyman in a sleazy Viennese brothel, while carrying on a secret relationship with an indentured Ukrainian prostitute - called Tamara (Irma Potapenko) - who plies her trade there. Hoping to pay off Tamara's debts and move with her to Ibiza, Alex plans to rob a rural bank, using the farm of his recently widowed grandfather Hausner (Hannes Thanheiser) as temporary hideout. "Nothing can go wrong," he repeatedly reassures Tamara, but she insists on coming along anyway, setting in chain a sequence of events that will lead to shots being (mis)fired by local policeman Robert (Andreas Lust).

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Distraught, Alex moves in with his grandfather, chopping wood and biding his time to take revenge on Robert – although, unbeknownst to him, Robert is in fact already punishing himself, traumatised with guilt over what has happened. Meanwhile Robert's wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), desperate for a baby and all too aware that her husband is also missing his mark in the bedroom, finds herself drawn to the gruffly strapping axeman staying over at Hausner's...

The first time we meet Alex, he is sitting completely still on his bed, only to roll deftly backwards into a standing position the instant his doorbell rings – and from that moment on, we know this man is a coiled spring, peaceful-seeming on the outside, but primed to explode into action at a moment's notice. Not only does he bear a certain physical resemblance to Robert 'Begbie from Trainspotting' Carlyle, but he shares that actor's intensity, so that the mere sight of him steadily sawing and axing his way through his grandfather's woodpile brings with it a terrible menace, even if cinematographer Martin Gschlacht frames him - and everyone else - in wide shots that are always measured and serene.

Spielmann's film organises itself around a series of tensions – between city and country, criminality and the law, foreign and local, Christianity and atheism, virility and impotence, revenge and redemption – all of which are crystallised in the film's highly suspenseful deferral of the titular promise of retribution. Here justice moves slowly, and in mysterious ways - and Spielmann's final reckoning of accounts, though unexpected, is subtly satisfying.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2010
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An accidental shooting leads to a search for revenge.
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Director: Götz Spielmann

Writer: Götz Spielmann

Starring: Johannes Krisch, Ursula Strauss, Andreas Lust, Hannes Thanheiser, Irma Potapenko, Hanno Pöschl

Year: 2008

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: Austria


London 2008

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