Alex (Johannes Krisch) is a loser. He's middle-aged, paunchy, and working as some kind of handyman in an Austrian brothel (he's the dude who stocks the towels and whatnot). He's in love with one of the prostitutes, a Ukrainian girl named Tamara (Irina Potapenko), who he also supplies with meager amounts of cocaine. Together, they talk about running away from it all, from the seedy and dangerous red light district where they both find themselves trapped. This talk of escapism intensifies after her pimp Konecny (Hanno Pöschl) wants her to move into a high-rise hotel that he controls, away from Alex.
Then Alex, the loser, has an idea: he'll rob a bank. Tamara protests. But Alex is bullheaded and his love for the young prostitute far outweighs common sense or moral responsibility. The robbery goes horribly wrong, and Alex is forced to hide out in the dusty country home of his grandfather Hausner (Hannes Thanheiser), whose wife recently died. I'm trying to tread lightly as to avoid spoilers, so bear with me, but in a twist of fate, the man Alex holds responsible for ruining his life (a young, idealistic police officer played by Andrea Lust) is living in the same town as his grandfather. Alex the loser wants revenge. I'm really hesitant to give any more away, and I think the description above can give you plenty to go on in terms of what the movie is ultimately about.
Given the recent spate of trashy, juvenile splatter-ific revenge fantasies unleashed in cinemas ('Law Abiding Citizen,' I'm looking in your direction), it's nice to see a deeply meditative film that is not, as the movie advertisements (and Beatrix Kiddo) call a 'roaring rampage of revenge.' Instead, unreasonably talented director Götz Spielmann is more interested in the transformation that goes on in the wake of loss, and the connection that can be made in the face of tragedy. Themes of guilt and redemption are wonderfully, thoughtfully explored. In other words, if you're looking for fiery bursts of arterial sprays, you might want to look elsewhere.
There are a number of striking things about 'Revanche,' an Academy Award nominee last year for Best Foreign Language Film. Watching the film, you get drawn into its world, one of rich characterization, deep introspection, and visual nuance. If I'm making the movie out to seem slow or boring, it's not. It's 100% gripping. I started the movie really late, saying to myself, "I'll finish it in the morning," except I couldn't. It was that great. I was riveted.
All of the performances in 'Revanche' are terrific, particularly Johannes Krisch in an electrifying lead. Just looking at the lines on Krisch's face you can understand the inner turmoil that simmers underneath. And I haven't even mentioned Usula Struass as the cop's troubled wife (who carries her own loss, having recently suffered a miscarriage) who gets involved with Alex in some deeply unexpected (but organic ways).
Writer-director Götz Spielmann directs the movie beautifully. It's not often that you find a film with a screenplay this tight that has the gorgeous visuals to match. The contrast between the city and the country works really well, with neon lights giving way to great green trees. The camera moves fluidly and naturally. It's just a sight to behold, like if Terrence Malick took over for Park Chan-wook for one of his "vengeance" movies.
If you're looking for blood-splattered savagery with the bare minimum of human emotion, then you should probably go elsewhere. If you're looking for a gorgeous, thoughtful, deeply meditative look at guilt, revenge, and redemption (not necessarily in that order), then you have come to the right place. 'Revanche' is a deeply affecting and wonderful little film. One of the best I've seen in a long while.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB disc plays automatically but halts at the main menu. It is Region "A" locked. As part of the Criterion collection, it's housed in the slightly chunkier plastic box and is spine #502.
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (upholding its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1) is nothing short of stunning. I think my eyes might have popped out of my head once or twice, even.
To quote from the accompanying booklet: "Approved by director Götz Spielmann, this new high-definition digital transfer was created from the Super 16mm color negative, which was scanned at 2K on a Northlight scanner and color graded on a Baselight EIGHT system."
If you're not really sure what that means, I can sum it up in one made-up word: Yowza. I mean that: Yowza. The picture looks gorgeous, without any detectable grain, scratches, pops, or anything else. Additionally, there are no buggy technical issues either, which means no alias, halos, crush, or noticeable DNR.
Where it counts it really excels: flesh tones look exceptional, colors are rendered vividly and realistically (with the colorful garishness of the city giving way to natural greens and browns of the countryside), and there are a couple of scenes where Alex is tromping through the woods in the middle of the night, in pitch blackness, with only his flashlight for illumination, that really stunned me. It appears that the flashlight alone illuminates the entire scene, and the blackness that surrounds him is so deep and bottomless that I could not believe my eyes. If you want to test out how well your television handles black levels, pop this baby in and watch those scenes. It's the new gold standard.
While not as gobsmacking, the German/Russian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is still quite a feat.
Again, according to the booklet: "The audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD." What this means is the track sounds really, really great. Dialogue and sound effects are both beautifully reproduced here.
This isn't an incredibly muscular track, with car chases and giant robot hordes, but it's a decidedly nuanced track, one that is gorgeously rendered. Dialogue is crisp, clean and well prioritized, sound effects are real and naturalistic (again, the differences between the city and country environments are wonderful), and the track has nice depth and density, with some nicely ambient atmospherics.
There's not a whole lot to talk about in regards to this track besides it being really great. I also just wanted to note that as the film begins, Tamara is speaking Russian (she's Ukrainian). Subtitles do not appear on this scene, or in any other scene where there's Russian being spoken. Your disc isn't defective or anything. This is a stylistic/narrative decision. Do not fret.
The only audio option is the German/Russian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles. But when the lone track is this good, you don't need anything else.
The abundance of extras on this disc are also available on the two-disc DVD set. The only Blu-ray-exclusive is the 'Timeline' that's now a mainstay on Criterion's high definition titles.
I loved Götz Spielmann's mesmerizing, beautiful, deeply complex 'Revanche.' It's a revenge movie like you've never seen before, whose introspective themes of guilt and redemption don't overwhelm what is essentially a really well done genre picture. (Yes, it's plenty entertaining.) With a gorgeous video presentation, superb audio, and a handsome collection of extras, this is Highly Recommended, with a bent towards Must Own. Get ready to get caught up in 'Revanche.'