Director Gotz Spielmann reveals heretofore unseen (and for my tastes, unwelcome) heart in his tricky noir thriller Revanche. The first half of the film finds the filmmaker in familiar territory. Set in urban Austria, it presents a thoroughly debased love triangle between a Ukranian immigrant, an ex-con, and a pimp. In these early scenes, Spielmann uses harshly lit visuals, aggressive sexuality and no shortage of sleaze to suggest that the city is hopelessly corrupt. He objectifies his actors by keeping his camera held back, and even finds moments of wit without breaking this mood. We see his hooker heroine taking a coffee break between clients, and later stating that her lifestyle is “perfectly normal” while preparing a line of cocaine.
These moments remind me of the Spielmann who directed the scabrous Antares. Unfortunately, the midpoint of the film sees him becoming a kinder, gentler, less-skilled storyteller. In the second half of Revanche, once the titular revenge plot gets kicked into gear, the movie begins increasingly relying on contrivances that undermine the tension that’s supposed to be forming.
Worse still, the film soon starts flirting with the possibility of redemption. As Revanche plays out, it becomes increasingly audience-friendly, but it betrays its initial worldview. The story reversals that it unleashes are easily anticipated, and the symbolic view of the country as a place that mollifies the evils the city never seems to develop fully (check out the classic On Dangerous Ground to see how well this stuff could work). While Revanche is not inept or poorly made, it represents an unfortunate step in the direction of the mainstream for an artist who once had a definite maverick streak.