In Gotz Spielmann’s thrilling Revanche, the quiet moments of indecision and guilt bend each character to their breaking point, making the contained narrative burst with tension. The film begins in Vienna, where Alex (Johannes Krisch) works a low level security job at a brothel and carries on a secret relationship with Tamara (Irina Potapenko), a Ukrainian prostitute working for Alex’s sleazy boss Konecny (Hanno Pöschl). In a stunning scene, Konecny emasculates Alex while they drive through the deceptively still city, saying he acts tough on the surface but doesn’t have a stomach for the criminal world. The rest of the film hinges on this key observation as Spielmann’s hero seems to be tainted by his own lack of brutality. In an attempt to save Tamara, Alex botches a robbery, helplessly watching as the tragic consequences follow him into the countryside where he hides out with his grandfather. Here, Revanche ties Alex’s fate with that of a conflicted local policeman named Robert (Andreas Lust) and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), setting the stage for a brilliant finale ripe with underlining motives.
Spielmann finds his muse in the devastatingly serene Austrian countryside, where forests, fields of grass, and bodies of water force characters to internally reflect. Ambient sounds and environment converge to reveal back story and future motivation, as slow ripples across a glassy pond, the violent chopping of wood, and the melancholy song of an accordion all evoke a deeper subtext than their surface level implications. This approach makes Revanche a gripping meditation on the small traumas that add up over time, filling every corner of the mind with doubt and vengeance. Spielmann packs the film with deceiving tonal shifts, where casual conversations slowly turn tragic and minute decisions trickle down to change the outcome from inevitable to uncertain. In the early moments, disjointed editing produces a puzzle-like quality, but eventually shifts to a ponderous approach, allowing long passages of screen time to pass with characters in shadow, or partially visible around doorways. Spielmann creates double-edged characters struggling to fend off self-destruction and start anew, but combustion imminently threatens, their world never turning steady enough to ensure permanent safety.