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Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…

Austria!

It’s a long journey for any film that reaches the Academy Awards, but an even longer one for the handful of international contenders.  First the country of origin has to vote and select the film, then it needs to be submitted to the Academy on-time and within certain guidelines, then it needs to be sure all its papers and shots are in order, and finally it needs to survive the whittling process where hundreds of films most Americans will never see get chiseled down to five.  (That most Americans will still never see.)  This past year’s selection was a mildly eclectic mix with representative films from Japan, Israel, Germany, Austria, and France.  While it was a monumental farce due to the absence of Let The Right One In, there were still some interesting and deserving nominees to be found… one of which is Revanche.  The best of the nominees I’ve seen so far remains Waltz With Bashir, but Revanche makes a strong case for a position towards the top.  (Don’t feel too bad for Austria’s loss to Japan’s Departures though, they won two years ago with The Counterfeiters.)

Alex (Johannes Krisch) and Tamara (Irena Potapenko) work in an Austrian strip club-cum-brothel called Cinderella, her as the talent and him as a general handyman.  The two are also secretly in love.  Alex is an ex-con who dreams of escaping from the miserable doldrums of their lives and opening a bar in Ibiza with Tamara, so when he sees an opportunity to score a large amount of cash with a small town robbery he jumps at the chance.  “Nothing can go wrong,” he says… Robert (Andreas Lust) and Susan (Ursala Strauss) live in the countryside outside of that small town where she spends her time mourning a recent miscarriage while he works as a police officer.  Their relations are strained due to the completed but unused nursery upstairs and the boredom they both feel creeping into their lives… Robert’s foot patrol brings him in contact with Alex and Tamara at the tail end of their perfect robbery, and a single act of bad luck and violence alters all four of their lives forever.  Like the proverbial second shoe drop, that bad luck finds Alex escaping and hiding out at his elderly grandfather’s house deep in the country.  One guess who Grandfather Hausner’s (Johannes Thanheisser) nearest neighbor is.  What follows is a slow burn of anger, guilt, loneliness, and a simmering desire for revenge.

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The film declares its style and narrative intent with the opening scene…  the calm, reflective surface of a small pond, still and unmoving, is shattered as a heavy object splashes into the water.  The film that follows shows the quiet calm of several characters’ lives soon broken by a brief burst of violence, and the ripples from that act roll outwards.  Director/writer Gotz Spielmann allows the tension to build naturally and frames many of his scenes as static shots.  The actors move in and out of frame, but often return as if to imply that escape is an unattainable option.  Revanche is a revenge film almost in name only as it follows its own arc rather than the traditional one set forth in films like Death Sentence or The Last House On The Left.  The characters are equally atypical for the genre.  Alex is a bank robber, but he’s as far from being the “bad guy” as Robert is from being the “good guy.”  Imagine a sexier and less melodramatic Reservation Road (with subtitles) and you’ll have a pretty good representation of the emotions and decision occupying Revanche.

Krisch is wonderfully convincing as both tough guy and loser in love. He handles scenes of violence and tenderness equally well especially when he intertwines the two halves with guilty stares towards and through the world around him.  The weight of the film rests mostly on his shoulders (and manly stache), but he proves more than capable.  Potapenko is equally impressive, and it’s not just because she’s naked for much of the film’s first forty-five minutes.  And uh… okay, it is mostly due to her very hot and very pretty Ukrainian features.  She does a fine job with the role Spielmann gives her, but she does even better with what Mother Nature gave her… So where was I again?  I know I had a serious review somewhere around here… Ah yes!  The acting is uniformly good across the board.  Lust and Strauss bring their characters’ stale marriage to life with almost silent arguments and lonely glances.  Robert’s inner turmoil eats at at his stoic but uncertain outer shell and we suffer alongside him.  Susan has a shell of her own, but it’s a little trickier and Strauss has to work that much harder to carry the audience along with her because of it.

Revanche actually translates as revenge, and combined with the question posed in the film’s advertising… “Whose fault is it if life doesn’t go your way?”… it presents the characters (and the audience) with interesting meditations on responsibility and accountability.  Each of the characters find themselves in a life presumably not of their choosing.  Each of them wants to blame someone else.  And some of them live long enough to see the futility of it all.

Besides it’s Academy Award nomination, Revanche also picked up another distinction recently.  The Criterion Collection in partnership with Janus Films actually decided to distribute the film in a limited theatrical run before releasing the dvd later this year.  It was a highly unusual move for the companies and spoke to the film’s perceived quality.  Having seen the movie I can safely say the modifier is unnecessary. Check out the NSFW trailer below.

Bottom Line: Revenge drama, character study, emotional thriller… Revanche is a powerful film well deserving of the accolades and nominations.  And Potapenko is insanely hot as well.

Grade: B+


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