Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Getting back

Revanche (Getting Back) 2008 Austria Criterion (121 minutes) written and directed by Götz Spielmann.
The fates of two young couples collide in this modern folk tale when a daydreaming Viennese sad sack with a prostitute girlfriend tries to solve their existential problems by robbing a small town bank.
The story about these couples becomes a series of fascinating character studies of the four individual people who comprise these relationships, as well as an aged widower farmer, one of the men’s grandfathers.
This is the first feature film of writer and director Götz Spielmann, an established Austrian playwright and stage director.
Spielmann said in an interview that his title Revanche has a double meaning in German. Like the expression ‘getting back’ in English, ‘revanche’ can convey the sense of ‘revenge’; it also contains the possibility of retrieving something lost or getting a second chance. Characters use the word ‘revenge’ several times during the movie, but in these instances they say the German word ‘rache’ (vengeance) rather than ‘revanche’.
Alex (Johannes Krisch, a veteran Austrian stage actor) is a porter at the Cinderella Club, a Viennese brothel. He and his girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko), one of the club’s top ‘madels,’ are deeply in love.
In love and trouble: Alex (Johannes Krisch) and Tamara (Irina Potapenko) in Revanche (2008).
Alex has a minor criminal record and jail time which seem more a product of bad luck and poor judgment than criminal intent. He is not a ‘bad’ guy. He works hard on the farm of his maternal grandfather, ‘Old Hausner’ (Hannes Thanheiser). Alex’s good intentions and best efforts just never add up to putting him up on the straight-and-narrow.
Tamara, an undocumented Russian sex worker and illegal alien from Ukraine, appears to keep her life together by compartmentalizing its radically different parts and living them one at a time: her relationship with Alex, the daily sexual humiliation she experiences on the job, her religion, and regular telephone calls home to her family.
For Tamara, her job seems to come down to partying with men she does not have to like, mildly anaesthetized with drugs and alcohol. She ‘performs’ and has desultory oral sex, neither of which appear to her really to count; the money is better than she ever made before, and the work is not too demanding. But Alex knows that very shortly the club management will ‘break’ her: the party will end and she won’t be able to leave.
Tamara (Irina Potapenko) 'performing' for a client at the Cinderella Club.
Tamara tells Alex that she needs $30,000 to buy her freedom from Cinderella Club owner Konecny (Hanno Poschl). Alex needs €80,000 to buy a partnership in a bar on Ibiza in Spain’s Balearic Islands to spirit himself and Tamara away from Austria and the Viennese underworld.
During a chance stop at a Volksbank branch in a town near his grandfather’s farm, Alex imagines what little risk it would take to stick-up this folksy-friendly bank hard and fast before they knew what hit them. He would use an unloaded gun to make sure no one could get hurt. He would solve all his and Tamara’s money problems in one morning’s quick work.
‘Nothing can go wrong,’ Alex repeatedly reassures his disbelieving Tamara.
In this town, an intense young policeman sensitive to parental pressure to get on with his life dreams of making a dramatic arrest that will advance his career.
Robert Kargl (Andreas Lust), the fresh-faced, earnest cop, and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), the owner and manager of a grocery store, are an attractive couple with good jobs and a nice new house, but they are frustrated by their inability to conceive a child. Their new nursery was finished before Susanne’s miscarriage, itself a ‘fluke’ because Robert is impotent.
A perfect life: Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and Robert Kargl (Andreas Lust) in Revanche (2008).
Against his better judgment, Alex lets Tamara go with him when he does the bank job. She stays in the car on the getaway route, sitting in the passenger seat, praying in a whisper in Russian with her eyes closed while he disappears up the alley.
At this moment, Officer Kargl, rounding the corner on a routine foot patrol, notices a vehicle illegally parked and taps on the passenger side window to tell the woman in the car that she cannot park there.
Robert walks to the front of the car after the passenger, a Slav speaking broken German, tells him that she does not have identification—and just as Alex nearly bounds back around the corner. 
The events which follow draw the characters together in unexpected ways designed to pinpoint each character’s soft spot.
Robert (Andreas Lust) and Alex (Johannes Krisch) in Revanche (2008)
One could object that it would not take long for the Austrian equivalent of the FBI working the case to solve the bank robbery and its outcome, but this story is not a police procedural. Spielmann said in an interview that the story he had in mind developed from a Jungian idea that one’s challenges in life arise psychically from what one has to learn as a human being.
Thus the story resolves more like a folk tale, in a ‘house at the end of the road,’ and it is in this way that each character ‘gets back.’
One of the most notable effects of this well made film is that the actors carry the drama without a clutter of music, as though on stage. Other than club music in the background in scenes at the Cinderella and actor Hannes Thanheiser’s improvisations on an accordion as the old farmer, Spielmann lets the actors’ Austrian dialect and broken German, the birds, the wind, nature and night speak for themselves.
Hannes Thanheiser as Old Hausner, playing for Ursula Strauss' Susanne in Revanche (2008)
Also, rather than show his audience plain or even telling objects they already have seen, such as photographs, Spielmann shows his actors’ faces responding to these things, letting his actors carry the drama.
The brothel scenes were shot in an actual club using its employees as extras. The women are almost always shot low looking up at their male customers and males who work at the club.
The sets in the country, especially on Old Hausner’s farm, are lit and the frames composed like classic Netherlandish genre paintings.
Included in CD set is Fremdland (Foreign Land), 1984, Spielmann’s first short film. A small boy has been sent to live and work for the summer on his family farm in the Austrian Alps alone with an intense, repressed farmhand. Dry—and spooky—as this may sound, this forty-three minute film draws one in by telling an intense and intimate, pitch perfect story in pictures.
The house at the end of the road in Revanche (2008).

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