"Revanche": Countryside Epiphanies

in 19th Tromsø International Film Festival

by Jacques Matthieu Chéreau

At first glance, Revanche has a tang of déjà vu. It clearly recalls the German and Austrian films that have appeared in the last few years, and have been noticed in many festivals. Stefan Krohmer’s Summer ’04 (Sommer ’04 an der Schlei), Matthias Luthardt’s Ping Pong and Ulrich Köhler’s Windows on Monday (Montag kommen die Fenster) have already depicted, in their subtle yet intense manner, bourgeois dramas taking place in the countryside, triggered by a stranger appearing out of nowhere — a stranger, often, from lower-class origins, more or less wild, always dangerous. The formula is simple: a few underacting bodies; some sparse, well-written dialogue; a cold cinematographic approach that favors wide shots and emptiness.

The story of Revanche goes like this: Alex dates Tamara. They both work at a brothel. At some point, they have to escape. They need cash, Alex robs a bank, an accident occurs, Tamara is left dead. Then, Alex visits his father in the countryside, right outside the city where the event occurred. It turns out his father’s neighbors are a couple; the husband is the cop who killed Tamara. Alex starts to date his elegant wife.

In the last half of the film, one can feel tension building at the edge of every scene. Alex brings it with him, refusing to say a word, confronting his own ghosts. Death is on everyone’s mind, and yet Alex makes love to the cop’s wife — giving life without even realizing it. This film is all about making paradoxical situations obvious. A death seems to call for another death, but this conflict turns out to give birth to life, almost accidentally. Sometimes, a form of humanism can be found in paradoxical scenes that appear mysterious but somehow make sense, revealing themselves with such immediacy that the viewer experiences a small epiphany. The key scene of Revanche is emblematic in this regard: Alex and the cop have a talk for the first time on a bench, in front of a lake. A few words are exchanged, nothing is said directly but at this very moment the entire story resolves itself. Everything relies upon how things are said, in a quiet and sincere way. Moral pain is ended; it is shared so intimately that it can now be extinguished. It has to disappear, with all the ghosts that come with it.

Epiphanies are always concerned, to some extent, with life; from time to time, they’ll result when life and death are confronted. Ingrid Bergman on the Stromboli awakes on the top of the volcano, and it’s a new beginning, a renaissance. I like the way these German and Austrian countryside dramas revisit this notion, in quite a homogeneous way. In the case of Revanche, the lake has an interesting significance. It is where the film starts and ends, where a gun is thrown away. It’s funny how nature comes back so often in these films: quiet and wild, it doesn’t say a thing, but at the same time it’s overwhelming, at least in one or two key scenes. There is a romantic touch to these films, something that stresses the randomness of fate and the beauty of life. Beyond the cold pictures and the almost unanimated bodies, something still exists, active and alive, in spite of the pain, in spite of the doubts. In these films, epiphanies come not to remind us to live again, or to live more; they are about saving what can be saved, and eventually finding peace.