16 January 2012

Have You Seen...? #4 (Revanche)

The first film to arrive on my resuscitated Netflix account (Christlike, I forgave the company for their 2011 trespasses) was Götz Spielmann's Revanche. The film is all Johannes Krisch's as our protagonist Alex, a man straight of out a Charles Willeford book. Perhaps if Cockfighter had been Woodchopper. In the first act of the film I thought Krisch had an aspect of Robert Carlyle's Begbie in Trainspotting, if a bit less sadistic and recessive. Early in Revanche Alex is employed as a sort of brothel handyman, ill-advisedly in love with a coworker.

But Alex's seemingly straightforward bank robbery getaway story with Ukrainian prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko, whose eyes are always expressive of her imminent doom) proves to be a Janet Leigh in Psycho-style MacGuffin. After Tamara exits we're left with two sets of houses out in the Viennese sticks and a story of Alice Munro-level insularity.

Alex moves in with Grandpa Hausner (Johannes Thanheiser, the Max von Sydow of Austria) a man who is very attached indeed to his haus, saying on more than one occasion: "they'll carry me out." Through the woods live Robert (Andreas Lust), a tense policeman entangled in Alex's botched robbery escape and his wide-of-bosom wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss) who takes Hausner to church on Sundays and is having some problems getting pregnant...

The tale unfolds with a sense of inevitability that I've always enjoyed. The simple plot allows Spielmann to give us an incredible intimacy with Hausner's farm. We see two spaces (the woodshed and the kitchen table) from an almost scientific variety of angles--progressive woodcutting and breadbreaking are captured by a camera shifted about 70 degrees clockwise with each shot. If it's the back of Alex's head for lunch in shot A, it's Alex's face in profile for breakfast in shot B. The pattern of the still life table and shrill table saw give the film a lulling, timeless quality, with Susanne's Sunday visits the only indication that there are individual days.

One unforgettable cut in Revanche: a shot of Susanne's legs scissoring as she walks away segues into a matched frame of block of wood chopped in two. The woman and the kindling spread out in to the light while Alex pounds away in the darkness of the barn. He's such a devoted lumberjack that it made me want to put on work gloves to keep the sap off my own hands (he did not, as I did this weekend, get his first mani-pedi).

The film's soundtrack is spare with emphasis on the haunting. The lakeside cry of the loon and the moan of Hausner's accordion intertwine in a quiet, elegiac frenzy. And then there's Alex's iced-over voice asking Susanne, with a tiny cross on her chest, "what does your god have to say?" In Revanche, not much.

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