The Rear-View Mirror: Revanche (2008)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

There is that guy, Alex, a gopher and bag man for a pimp called Konecny, somewhere in Vienna. One of Konecny’s girls, Tamara, has a secret affair with Alex. They want to escape while Konecny wants to make a high-end call-girl out of Tamara. Alex has to act if they want to have a future together. He decides to rob a bank. What sounds like a movie of the week is actually the Austrian entry for Best Film of 2009 called Revanche, written and directed by Götz Spielmann. Spielmann has said in an interview that he doesn’t know what his movie is about. I respectfully disagree: he knows exactly what he is doing, and his characters are made of flesh and blood and don’t just hurtle from one plot development to the next.

Tamara gets shot when a cop tries to stop the getaway car by shooting at the tires. Ales is heartbroken and hides on his grandfather’s farm. That granddad is old, but stubborn, and we see where Alex gets his gruffness from. There is a woman, Susanne, who is friends with the old man because they are neighbours. And slowly, while furiously chopping his granddad’s wood, Alex realises that Susanne is the cop’s wife.

The word revanche does carry the meaning of revenge, but it also means a second chance, an option for the loser of a game to ask for another go against the winner, which can be taken to mean the opposite of revenge, if you want to see it that way. Alex tries to stand above bloody revenge, and the movie slowly but surely makes Susanne its new protagonist. No single character of Revanche has the overview of what is happening to whom and why, just like in real life. You could call it a tragedy of errors.

Spielmann films his characters often as if they were in a Hopper painting: the center of attention of some of his scenes, is elsewhere, outside the frame. It’s not a film about getting even, but about rising above yourself. There is something of Patricia Highsmith about the story: normal people trapped in exceptional circumstances. Alex robs a bank, but is not a bankrobber. Susanne is unfaithful, not because of the thrill, but because she wants to safe her marriage and, in a way, herself. Their motives might be slightly twisted, but understandable. They all think they have free will; they don’t, but in Revanche, they don’t follow the strict, boring rules of a revenge thriller, but make their own decisions, and they are surprised about where they end up. Best laid plans and all that.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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