Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gotz Spielmann's REVANCHE: Interesting, well-performed, but highly manipulative

Maybe I am just peculiar about manipulation: I can tolerate it, in fact welcome it, in a movie like Shall We Kiss or an arthouse crowd-pleased such as Paris 36. But give me a "serious" film in which I start to feel manipulated -- and red flags arise.

So it is with Gotz Spielmann's new REVANCHE. I was enormously impressed with the writer/director's earlier Antares

(released here via Film Movement) and so approached his latest with perhaps too much expectation, increased by some very good press worldwide and a nod from our own Academy as a contender for Best Foreign Language Film last year.

Revanche -- the French word for revenge -- begins beautifully, with a placid view and quiet ambient sound that is suddenly broken by an event. What this event is we don't know at the time but learn much later in the proceedings. And that, my friends, is all you're going to get from me regarding plot, as Revanche, even more that most films, I think, depends on our being surprised as we move along. By approximately one-third of the way through the film, however, I had most of it figured out. So carefully planned (or as I began to interpret this, manipulated) has been Mr. Spielmann (shown above, right) in his arranging of locations, events, characters (and their physical states) that far too much coincidence has piled up and any real surprise has leeched out long before the movie reaches its conclusion.

Further, being quite slow-moving, it takes its sweet time in doing this, which gives those of us who've been moving ahead in our imagination yet another reason to start tapping our feet with impatience. There is a sense that the manner in which the whole comes together has been manufactured rather than having blossomed organically. (This is not true, by the way, of any of the individual characters and their stories, but it is definitely true of the way in which these character/stories/events coalesce.)

The performances, as with Antares, are first-rate and do much to carry the film along. Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, Ursula Strauss and Johannes Thanheiser (who makes a great grandpa) comprise the ensemble. The generally bleak landscape is captured beautifully by cinematographer Martin Gschlacht and the fine sound design is from Heinz Ebner. I suspect mine will be a minority viewpoint on this movie, which, despite my own misgivings, I recommend that you try. I'll look forward to Mr. Spielmann's next outing -- and to having a conversation with the filmmaker (who is currently in town) later this week.

Revanche open Friday, May 1, at the IFC Center in New York City, with further openings, one hopes, planned down the road. An eventual DVD release is likely, as well.

(The final three images are are from the film.)

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