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Revanche (2008)

March 9, 2011

9/10 Ripple Effects

Deceptively simple and utterly devastating.

Revanche is about a handyman at a brothel who falls for one of the girls on staff and plans to run off with her in order to get away from her dangerous pimp. In order to finance their escape, the handyman decides to rob a bank on their way out of town. So the big day comes around, he pulls off the heist with ease, but then things take a turn for the tragic during the getaway and our guy heads to his uncle’s home in the country to hide from the public eye. Before long, he realizes that one of his new neighbors is the very same person who threw his life into a whirlwind, so he bides his time, chops some wood, and starts planning his revenge.

So going off that last sentence and keeping in mind that this movie’s title means “Revenge” in German, you can probably guess what the driving theme behind this movie is. Unfortunately, I can’t be giving away any specifics here as to why our handyman is out for vengeance, but by the same token, revenge is just the tip of the iceberg with this one.

It’s written and directed by one Götz Spielmann – a guy who didn’t know existed before seeing this movie – and if there’s one thing I dig about what he’s done here, it’s the way he makes this experience as subtle as it is intense. When modern-day revenge movies come to mind, I tend to think of The Rock or Nic Cage overacting like gangbusters and killing fools wholesale with no questions asked. This, on the other hand, is as far from that as can be.

It’s not loud or action-packed in the least, in fact, there’s no score at all, there’s nothing flashy about the direction or the script, and it’s a prime example of how less can sometimes be so much more. The whole thing is this slow boil of baited inaction that keeps leading you on and leaves you waiting for the hammer to drop with each new scene that lurks around the corner. It works because as soon as tragedy strikes, the only thing you’ll be waiting for is for it to strike again. It’s the deafening silence that surrounds everything, it’s watching our handyman chop wood like an axe murderer, and it’s never knowing what’s gonna happen next even because Spielmann refuses to slack up on the tension that keeps on escalating until it’s effing palpable.

But that’s the thing. While it creates a mood that will leave you short of breath, Spielmann’s not out for payback. Instead, he focuses on the questions you’d inevitably ask that come with grief, bloodlust, and justifying vigilante “justice”, and that’s what makes this movie stand out because those are questions that rarely get addressed by characters with revenge on the brain. It’s not cut-and-dry and it’s far more complicated than an eye-for-an-eye outlook would ever provide.

In a nutshell, it’s a story of strangers coming to terms with their own demons and finding where to place the blame for everything that went so wrong in their lives while being plagued with rage or guilt. That might not sound like much to get excited over from the outset and it might even sound pretty by-the-books, but it’s surprisingly unpredictable and continually takes its characters down paths that you won’t see coming.

On that note, I love the way Spielmann doesn’t just tell this story from the perspective of the handyman, but from the viewpoint of the neighbor and the neighbor’s wife whose daily lives have all been affected in equally crushing ways as a result of that fated day. There’s no one person to sympathize with, and the more we learn about what each of them are going through, the more you realize that no one here can be easily pigeonholed as “right” or “wrong” for how they’re feeling or what they do. Incredibly well structured and well thought out for a premise that doesn’t tend to get much insight thrown its way.

But it does take a while to get going. The first Act is relatively uninteresting and carries a completely different tone from the next 90 minutes that follow it. There’s nothing very new about the story of an ex-con who tries to run away with the prostitute he fell in love with, and since a lot of it takes place in a dingy brothel, there’s a seriously excess amount of nudity and hooking going on that made it all feel depressing and boring more than anything else. Not the kind of thing that would warrant a 9 and it’s a pretty 0ff-putting way to kick off a story that ultimately turns into something completely different.

Then again, it does provide a pretty eye-opening contrast to everything that comes next. Need to think about this some more. Will report back.

But with that being said, I wasn’t crazy about Revanche when it first started and it was more like an 8 by the time it was over, although the more I thought about it and the more I couldn’t shake it for days after, it eventually hit me that this was a pretty astounding piece of work. The last movie I saw that was so inwardly complex and outwardly simple as this was In the Bedroom, and I don’t know how many people have seen this movie or heard of it, but with a comparison like that, it deserves some attention.  Just an effing brilliant script backed up by solid acting and even better direction. Wish I had more to say about the actors who all do a bang-up job, but this one’s all about Spielmann and he kills it on every front.

And in completely unrelated news, go ahead and count this as my 500th review, folks. Sorry I didn’t write about a more well-known movie for this occasion that truly cements the way this blog has completely taken over my life, but alas, it was either this or four other movies that no one’s ever heard of. Still, thanks for reading, gang. Let’s get married.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Moose permalink
    March 9, 2011 9:14 am

    Woah, 500 reviews. I can’t even believe that!

    Anyways, this movies seems flipping awesome. I’ll definitely need to pick it up, seems like something I would really enjoy.

    Keep up the good work, here’s to 500 more.

    • March 9, 2011 1:55 pm

      Thanks, man. Can’t quite believe it either, I need to get a life.

      And, yeah, you should definitely check this out because it is flipping awesome. Unfortunately caught it the day before it left Netflix Instant, but worth taking up a spot on the DVD queue. Let me know when you get around to it.

  2. German Major permalink
    March 9, 2011 9:02 pm

    Technically Revanche is a German word, but it’s just borrowed from French. The better German word to use is Rache… but hey, you didn’t pick the title, so no biggie. Also, this will be the only time my major will ever be useful.

    Congrats on the 500th review. Love the blog, so keep it up!

    • March 10, 2011 1:30 pm

      Haha. Had no idea about any of that, but hey, might just come in handy when I get on Jeopardy one of these days.

      And thanks! Much appreciated and don’t be a stranger.

      • German Major permalink
        March 11, 2011 12:37 am

        Oh, and on the topic of German movies, may I suggest:

        Im Juli (in July)
        Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

      • March 11, 2011 9:56 am

        Never heard of In July, but I haven’t seen The Lives of Others since it was in theaters. Great, tragic movie, about time I gave it another watch so I could give it the review it deserves. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. March 9, 2011 9:13 pm

    Haven’t heard of this movie but it means something that you gave it such raving praises. Will definitely check it out!

    Congrats on 500 awesome reviews! Great milestone of longevity and consistency sir.

    • March 10, 2011 1:44 pm

      Yeah, it was something else, man. Let me know what you think if you ever get around to it.

      And thanks! Can’t believe it’s been going this long to be honest. Crazy times.

  4. March 9, 2011 11:26 pm

    I love this film, as well. It fills in all of the interesting territory that films about revenge usually leave blank, which tends to be ‘everything interesting’. There’s another ‘big’ minimalist arthouse film about revenge made in the last 10 years, but I think it is far more sensationalist (while at the same time being more minimalist?) and thus misses much of the nuance. It won a Palm d’Or for its efforts, but I’ll take this film over that one any day.

    It’s good that you identify the core genre elements which eventually fall by the wayside in the film, because I think that’s an important part of it. There are quite a few German directors who are doing this sort of thing lately, and it’s very interesting how these very dramatic premises can be flipped around and exposed for the human complexities that often get washed out. As for this being obscure – it was hailed by most everyone who saw it after its festival run and got released by the most well known DVD company in America, so I’d say as far as arthouse films go it was pretty popular. I know I had heard of it about a year before it got released on DVD. Anyway, make no apologies for obscurity, good films are good films. Bad films just tend to be less obscure, unfortunately.

  5. March 12, 2011 3:39 pm

    Wow dude, congrats on 500 reviews! Glad to see you are still coming up with new material every day.

    Never heard of this movie, but it sounds intriguing. I will have to fire it up on the ol’ Netflix queue.

    • March 14, 2011 1:02 pm

      Thanks, man! Yeah, apparently I watch a lot of movies or something. Getting a little ridiculous at this point, but what can I say, I’m hooked.

      The only bummer about this movie is that it just left Netflix Instant, but still very much worth tracking down and checking out. Awesome stuff.


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