Revanche - Götz Spielman (2008)
The buzz around Revanche made me reluctant to seek it out, having become somewhat guarded about mass entertainment in the 21st century. It seems to know and feed two moods: breathlessly gritty squalor and the airlessly immaculate idyll. One bitter and bleak, the other saccharine and blandly luxurious. Cinema often seems like the place where over-indulged, naively cynical children go in search of novelty and distraction.
This expectation is largely born out by the films being produced. As a prejudice it performs the function of all prejudices: obviating investment of precious attentional resources in persons and activities that yield no secrets or gratification. Even when some new film has made it passed my censor it remains hard not to be skeptical and prepared for disappointment. So when a film does come along that fulfills in miraculous fashion one’s cinematic ideals, one is left a bit awe-struck: filmic miracles still occur.
Long before the credits rolled Revanche had transposed me into a state of reverent jubilation. It is the most unlikely thing of all in this age of hype and cheep tricks: wholeheartedly and radically classical: measured and restrained; focused and respectful. It's a film that seems to know exactly where it's going and never fails to be anything but profoundly human along the way. Spielmann cultivates a complete objectivity a propos his material. His respectfulness manifests itself in the space he surrounds his characters with. He seems not at all interested in types, whether comically or ideal-typically reduced, but in individuals naked and in the round. There is a purity of vision at work that seems, for want of a better word, literary. The visual equivalent of the universality of prose. Film does not dispose of the abstract potentiality of language, so when it does scrape up against the dimension of the infinite one can be sure the film-maker has managed to distill without imprinting or denoting univocally. He has managed to give form without closing it to suggestivity, to the implicit and evocative--precisely those elements that make prose inexausitble. Spielmann's characters are never just personae but th outward manifestation of genuinely hidden depths: we inhabit each one of them as a virtual self, with all its indeterminacy, volatility, and chaos.
The events unfold leisurely, eventually bringing us to a point where we genuinely dread the danger facing each character. Such concern is the most reliable indication that Spielmann’s judgments and choices about plotting and casting have payed off. Yet the film declines to bring about the show-down that seems inevitable. The denouement is not some jarring moment of thespian display, but a kind of unspoken truce. A shared secret shared and agreement not to seek retribution. Things are left unresolved, but in balance in a kind of non-hostile check-mate that seems like a state of grace. A state that well characterizes the feel of the film as a whole. There is nothing mean in it, excepting one rather untender scene of love-making, but even that is consensual.
A tale of love, grief, and fidelity as they intersect with reality as the realm of thwarting and malific forces, Revanche reminded me a bit of The Vanishing. Yet Revanche is not a dark vision like Sluizer’s film; grace and forgiveness rather than evil are its theme. More specifically, the retributive impulse qua obsession. Grace--the willingness of people to not hold grudges, to move towards one another in spite of overt hostility and refrain from violence--is a thread through the entire film. The one act of violence is an accident, while the slow build up to the inevitable act of vengeance loses momentum as the web of relationships is spun ever tighter, filling in blanks with flesh and blood. With the progressive individuation of character the impetus for conflict abates.
The conclusion seems to be: both men have a portion of guilt, both are implicated in the death of Tamara. Life is a series of coincidences and accidents; being in the wrong place at the wrong time, discovering reality fortuitously. It is also an opportunity to choose good rather than evil, though the choice may never present itself so clear-cut. With growing understanding, certain alternatives fall by the wayside. And sometimes not doing anything is, if not perfect justice, all that a given circumstance requires.
Alex stumbles upon Tamara’s unwitting killer and plots revenge, but in the end gives Susanne the child Robert could not. Thus evil intentions unintentionally and fortuitously yield new life. The pregnancy in turn would not have come about without Susanne’s unstinting solicitude, her unwillingness to be put-off by Alex’s hostility. Granted, her propositioning was not self-less. The point is--she asked and received, though not, initially, with reciprocal grace. Yet her solicitude of sex was the catalyst for the resolution of her childlessness and, eventually, the end of Alex’s need for retribution.
The film, by is stylistic austerity and shunning of sensationalism invites reflection on its plot points, on the consequences of actions and motives. In this too it demonstrates its perfection as a work of art. It is more than a hyper-kinetic exploitation of the momentary, the fragmented, squalid or malign. It is a parable about human nature.
There is no closure to the film. One imagines life will go on with the truce in place. Secrets will be kept. Maybe Alex will play some role in the lives of Susanne and Robert and watch his son grow up. Everything is left open and ambiguous, inviting the viewer to speculate in this fashion. The one thing that seems to have been resolved is that more violence would be senseless (compare this to In the Bedroom). The universe is open as on the first day. It is not mean, or nasty, just indeterminate. And there are women in it.
Justice that holds sway in individual consciences. And as we are each condemned, we remain redeemable.
The grace of Revanche obtains both at the level of film technique (the look and cut and pacing of the film), and at the level of the character’s evolution. It is the grace of objectivity, of insight as reflection. The grace of letting be, as opposed to escalation.