Maccewill Yip cherishes the slow burn of Götz Spielmann’s Revanche while going to bat for Janus Films distribution company.
Those deep into movies know Janus Films. Started in 1956, it was the company that became synonymous with arthouse cinema, releasing films from Michelangelo Antonioni, Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, François Truffaut, Yasujirō Ozu, and many, many others to the American audience. However, with a decline of interest in these films, Janus stopped acquiring rights for first-runs screenings in America. Over the years, they continued gaining rights to various foreign films; it wasn’t until decades later, with renewed interest through the Criterion Collection, that they began to release films again as first-runs, beginning with Revanche. To promote this, they had a social media sweepstakes that offered free tickets to screenings of the movie. I guess I was the only one who entered, since they later sent me a message saying I won the tickets by default.
So a friend and I went and came out loving it. It was completely within our wheelhouse: a quiet, slow-burn character study reminiscent of similar films from the New Hollywood movement. I watched it a couple of more times when it came out on Blu-ray but haven’t approached again until now. Matter of fact, I’ve had this film in mind for this blog for a while, and so I decided to save the rewatch for when it came time for this review.
I went back in thinking maybe some parts weren’t going to hold up much anymore, but that wasn’t the case. There was even one small part I was going to criticize, but later found endearing later on. Otherwise, I ended up enjoying how the director, Götz Spielmann, was able to bring these characters together without making it seem too much like a series of convenient coincidences. I also loved how a lot of the story was able to be shown through the actions of the characters, without a lot of heavy expositions. In the same vein, Spielmann knows how to visually set up scenes that would later payoff or create thematic echoes throughout the movie.
The first theme I noticed can be viewed in the first few shots, which shows the seemingly idyllic life of the cop, Robert, and his wife, Susanne, before we’re shown the small, slightly run-down apartment inhabited by Alex and visited by his prostitute girlfriend, Tamara. I remember noting that it seemed to be making comparisons between city and country life but was unsure of my analysis until I watched one of the special features and was glad to see Spielmann himself pointing out that that was his intention in the film. More specifically, he was trying to show the difference between money and nature. To show one of the extremes, he had chosen the world of prostitution, saying:
“The world of the red-light district is, in a very overstated way, a portrait of our society, because in the extreme case, it’s all about money and profit, no matter the cost. That has a lot to do with our society, whether we care to see it or not.”
Nature seems to be a place where not only can a man escape the chaotic city life, but it also allows one space and time to breath and allow things to settle. This is best represented in the opening shot, where the peaceful pond is disrupted by a splash of the outside world (a gun), only for the ripples to slowly dissipate before peacefully settling again.
As mentioned earlier, there are several cyclical echoes within the film. Some are setups for later scenes, like when Alex sneaks into Tamara’s room without their boss, Konecny, finding out, first to secretly see her, then to sneak her belongings out for her to escape without security noticing. Then there are the locations we come back to; there are a couple of times we see Alex driving in the road, once on his motorbike and once in the getaway heist car, before the camera leaves him and goes to a place off the side of the road, where we settle into a shot in the woods with a couple stacks of chopped lumber and a dilapidated, rusted cross. And again, there is the opening shot, where we see a peaceful pond before seeing something splash into it, and it isn’t until the end with a wider shot do we find out it’s the gun Alex has been holding onto while contemplating his vengeance on the cop.
Another theme that the film focuses on is how one deals with loss, mainly through the men in the movie. There are the smaller background losses, from Konecny the boss losing the prostitute he was primping for higher clients, to Alex’s grandfather, Hausner, who has lost his wife. There’s Alex, who lost Tamara after she accidentally got shot in the car during the heist. Then there’s Robert, who, on top of his wife’s miscarriage, now carries the guilt of shooting and killing Tamara. Each deals with their loss in different ways, Alex distracting himself through work, cutting his grandfather’s pile of logs, whereas Robert tries to hold and repress his guilt until he breaks down and asked to go on leave.
As Spielmann said in an interview:
“As for my center from where I wrote the film, there was the incredible loss, this fateful blow, and how one deals with it. And attention to how such fateful blows can be turned into something positive, or how one can learn from them that’s beneficial to oneself, that one needs, that helps one go on living, that makes one human.”
I found that it was Robert, the cop, and his wife, Susanne, that interest me the most in this viewing of the movie. There are a couple of early scenes where we see he has an itchy trigger finger: in the first one, we see that even after practicing at the firing range that he is eager to shoot again, and then later during a barbeque when he hears a colleague relating a story of a small shootout that happened when Robert was off-duty, where he bemoans the fact that he missed out on the action. However, in a case of being careful what you wish for, when Robert does use his gun and later finds out it was his bullet that killed Tamara, there develops a guilt that gnaws at him throughout the rest of the film. It isn’t until Susanne brings up that she might be pregnant that Robert is able to break free from his grief. And then there’s Susanne herself who, as the actress herself (Ursula Strauss) is probably right in saying, is the strongest character in the movie:
“She’s not afraid of her weaknesses. I think the problem with the men is that they’re so scared about their weaknesses. And that unsettles them.”
She’s the one to love and help her husband. However, although she is religious (she and Alex’s grandfather, Hausner, goes to church every Sunday), she justifies her need to want to sleep with Alex. Even when she finds out it was Alex who robbed the bank and was seeking vengeance against her husband, she isn’t necessarily afraid of him, but does plead that he won’t go after her husband. And finally, she will carry Alex’s baby, willing to lie to her husband about who it belongs to. It seems she would have no qualms about it, since she earlier mentions how she would be happy to adopt a child, only for Robert to ironically respond with how they wouldn’t know how the child would turn out, not knowing where it came from.
The last theme I want to talk about is how, even amongst such disparate characters, there are some shared humanities. One example shown is how it seems to emphasize that women have a certain intuition, such as when Susanne says she can tell when an earlier attempt with to conceive with Robert didn’t take, and later toward the end when she says she felt it had happened (albeit with Alex). Then there is Tamara, when she says she feels that something bad would happen during the heist. Then there is what I had mentioned as the one criticism which later I found enduring; Hausner tends to like to state the obvious, saying out loud to himself he is feeding hay to the cows or he is going to play the accordion. It’s during the getaway at the heist that I noticed Alex does the same thing, saying out loud that the cop had shot at them, only to shoot the rear window. Otherwise, both men are rather taciturn. Then there is the scene with both Alex and Hausner enjoying a meal, where we can see a similarity of both men in how they move and eat together. Finally, there is the loss and guilt felt, for different reasons, by Alex and Robert. This is emphasized by how both are coincidentally haunted by photos of Tamara: Alex with the one he found with her IDs, and Robert with a crime scene photo. In fact, it was Alex’s photo that Susanne was able to make the connection she didn’t know exist between the two men. Spielmann said it himself when explaining what he wanted to do with his films: “…in revealing what we share in common rather than accentuating what divides us.”
Re-watching the movie reminded me of how much I loved it. Its reminds me of similar films I love such as Two-Lane Blacktop, Five Easy Pieces, and Paris, Texas. Usually a movie that holds your attention with longer takes become more meditatively beautiful, and they are sometimes harder to compose well since you can’t hide mistakes within quick edits. Again, as Spielmann said in an interview:
“I always keep the audience in mind when making films. I think it creates a very different intensity when you have time to see an image. In typical mainstream films, you don’t really see images anymore, because the three or four seconds they’re on the screen isn’t enough to really take in an image.”
Also in this rewatch, I thought about the title, Revanche. The translation/meaning most people will take, including myself initially, is “revenge.” Yes, there is that temptation with Alex, but that’s limited only to his character. The title makes a much broader sense when you learn the second meaning of the word: “second chance.” Alex learns to accept his guilt, forgive, and continue. His grandfather, lonely after losing his wife, finds some comfort in the quiet companionship of Alex and Susanna. Robert, although it’s through lies, is given an opportunity to slowly shed his guilt in order to embrace fatherhood. This film isn’t a revenge movie so much as one about redemption.
– The shot of looking into the getaway car parked outside the bank, there are stains from the opposing building seen slightly reflected on the car window onto Tamara’s face, making it look even more bruised. I can’t say it’s intentional, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it either emphasizes her existing bruises, her existing damage, or it could be a slight foreshadow of her fate.
– The blade of the axe Alex uses has the same shade of blue as Hausner’s cap.
– Behind the scene shows that Alex’s back tattoo was painted on, which explains why it looks like a fresh tattoo all the time.
– So I guess shootings are not too common in Austria if news about a cop shooting and accidentally killing someone in a bank heist made all the news.
– Apparently Konecny likes to use the phrase “My loss, your gain” to gain confidence in people.
– There were times I wondered if it was Susanna’s plan all along to get pregnant by Alex.
– And I’ll leave with a final Götz Spielmann quote:
“Control, thought, reflection, the will, these are all things which impede power, energy, accuracy, and great accomplishments instead of promoting them. You need to reach a state where you forget your ego and focus only on the subject. A state of selflessness, when you don’t control, but only do what’s important and necessary right now. When you’re entirely focused on the exterior, the subject, not on yourself. That’s the condition where great things happen in all works of art.”