Two couples are bound together by fate in Austrian writer-director Goetz Spielmann's taut thriller "Revanche."

Two couples — one from the city, the other from the countryside — are bound together by fate in Austrian writer-director Goetz Spielmann’s taut thriller “Revanche.” Elegantly spinning primal elements of guilt, revenge, faith and redemption, helmer’s gripping fifth feature is prime fest material that’s likely to rate Euro arthouse exposure, with further viewers in ancillary. Like his previous “Antares,” it also contains scenes of graphic sexuality. Pic won the Europa Cinemas Label for best Euro film in Berlin’s Panorama sidebar.

In Vienna’s demi-monde, ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) serves as a flunky for sleazy brothel owner Konecny (Hanno Poeschl) while secretly carrying on an affair with Ukrainian prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko). Meanwhile, in a small village some hours away that’s home to Alex’s elderly grandfather (Hannes Thanheiser), athletic cop Robert (Andreas Lust) and shopkeeper wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss) live a rural idyll in which they lack only offspring.

When Alex, in disguise, robs a bank in Robert’s village, the fallout connects them in complex ways. Afterward, taking refuge on his grandfather’s farm at the edge of the woods, Alex finds his gnawing despair leavened by the old man’s simple work ethic — and friendly neighbor Susanne’s warm optimism.

Stillness and sounds of nature play a key role in creating pic’s intense atmosphere. Eschewing a music track makes a scene in which the grandfather finds joy playing his beloved accordion again especially poignant. Asking the question, “Whose fault is it if life doesn’t go your way?,” the cleverly constructed script introduces some fresh and surprising twists and turns.

In what’s essentially a six-hander, the casting is aces. All actors turn in fine, naturalistic perfs, but it would be remiss not to remark on 83-year-old Thanheiser’s profoundly moving turn as the grandfather.

Impressive lensing from Martin Gschlacht, the key cinematographer for Austria’s young helmers, provides simplicity and clarity, while concise cutting by Karina Ressler allows no gratuitous moments in a pic that clocks in at just over two hours. With “Revanche” his strongest work yet, Spielmann creates high expectations for the future.

Revanche

Austria

Production

A Spielmannfilm, Prisma Film production. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Mathias Forberg, Heinz Stussak, Goetz Spielmann, Sandra Bohle. Directed, written by Goetz Spielmann.

Crew

Camera (color), Martin Gschlacht; editor, Karina Ressler; production designer, Maria Gruber; costume designer, Monika Buttinger; sound (Dolby Digital), Heinz Ebner; sound editor, Bernhard Bamberger; casting, Rita Waszilovics. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 11, 2008. Running time: 121 MIN.

With

Johannes Krisch, Ursula Strauss, Andreas Lust, Irina Potapenko, Hannes Thanheiser, Hanno Poeschl. (German, Ukrainian dialogue)

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