Blu-ray Review: Revanche (Criterion Collection)

Before Departures won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 it seemed the battle for the Academy Award in that category was between Revanche and The Baader Meinhoff Complex. Nevertheless, while Departures took home the Oscar it is obvious Revanche already has a leg up with a glossy Criterion Blu-ray edition hitting store shelves.

Directed by Gotz Spielmann, Revanche is a human drama more than it is the thriller many are describing it as. It is certainly not a “gripping thriller” as the back cover of this Criterion release says or a “taut thriller” as described by Variety. This isn’t to say it’s boring, I’m just simply getting the facts straight as opposed to setting you up for disappointment.

Thrills, as we traditionally think of them, are limited here as Revanche tells the story of two couples — one trying to build a family in the country and another looking to escape the red light district in Vienna — who become unknowingly tangled after the shooting death of a young prostitute.

Written by Spielmann the film uses the similarities of the characters and their difference of circumstances to tell a story that moves along slowly, but all the while plays on your mind. I wasn’t so much caught up in the exaggerated “thrill” of where the film was going, as much as I was intrigued by what will happen to these characters after the story gets there.

Even more fascinating was the contrast in environments. Much of the first half of the film is set in the hustle and bustle of Vienna before the second half takes place in the country, where life’s volume is turned all the way down. There was a moment where I was briefly taken aback, remembering where the story had started as I watched the film’s protagonist continue to chop a seemingly endless pile of firewood. The fluid movement of the film’s narrative had captured my attention to such a degree that it wasn’t until much later I realized it was almost as if I was watching a completely different film, that’s how well executed the move from the city to the country is in this feature. As drastic as the change in scenery is, you’re far too engaged to notice it immediately.

This isn’t to say this is a perfect film, as Spielmann is a detail-oriented director almost to a fault. To hear him explain his approach in an included 35-minute interview gives us a greater understanding of his intentions:

[It] involves more risk if viewers have time to really look at an image. They notice every flaw and mistake. If I cut away every three seconds, they won’t notice the patchwork of mediocre images flickering past. But this way you can create better quality and greater beauty, I think. […]

This basic principle of constantly diverting and shattering the viewers’ concentration – that’s what I find detestable. I also think it doesn’t show any respect for the audience. Even though my work isn’t commercial, or doesn’t have a primarily commercial focus, I still think that this kind of filmmaking shows much greater respect for the audience than films supposedly made exclusively for the audience.

It almost makes it sound like he holds his shot for an additional beat (or four) just to spite the rash of recent filmmakers who’ve taken to the flash-bang style of editing. No worries, this film benefits from it often, but it probably could have been cut a bit shorter to tighten things up and perhaps get closer to that thriller some reviewers claim it to be.

Additional features include a 37-minute making of featurette, the trailer and finally Spielmann’s first short film from film school titled Foreign Land with an introduction by Spielmann. There is also a 12-page booklet with an essay by Armond White.

A story of contrasting worlds, Revanche is an excellent film to wrap your head around. It’s title translated means revenge, but as it’s pointed out in the making-of featurette, it can also mean second chance. The characters in this film are all dealing with loss; some may seek revenge, others may invite it and given the circumstances there is no one party to side with. It plays on your emotions, where the true villain is hardly the embodiment of evil and the hero is a man dealing with his own demons.

There’s a lot to take away from Revanche and plenty to consider once it’s over, which, to me, is a sign of a film well worth watching. As far as owning, I can say this Blu-ray has some outstanding visuals, the lack of a score means the audio track has to primarily hold up the dialogue, which it does, but when much of the film turns to silence and the faint sounds of the forest are all that can be heard is when it really shines. The birds sing from all corners and no annoying hiss can be heard. Perfect.

Of the three films Criterion is releasing on February 16, 2010, this one is at the top of my list. There are plenty of viewings to be had and as much as it is considered a thriller by others, there is also a peaceful serenity to Spielmann’s impressive use of silence, which he himself realizes saying, “It’s a wonderful goal: to narrate the silence.”

Stay up to date with everything Home Video related from reviews, release dates and newly announced DVDs and Blu-ray Discs in the RopeofSilicon Home Video Central.


Marvel and DC