Austria, 2008 | Directed by Götz Speilmann
Entrancing and brutal, this Austrian thriller is a perfect antithesis to the big-budget Hollywood action farces that have been beating American audiences into submission for decades. With subtlety, unerring honesty, and near perfect mise en scéne, Speilmann constructs an emotional and psychological narrative, propelled forward by contours of emotion rather than twists and turns of plot.
Revanche tells the story of Alex (Johannes Krisch), an ex-convict who works as muscle/wrangler in a Vienna brothel, where his Ukrainian girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko) is essentially enslaved as a prostitute. In order to escape Tamara’s debt to the brothel’s owner, Alex plans a bank robbery, after which the two plan to flee to Ibiza. Meanwhile, Robert (Andreas Lust), a cop finishing his training, and Susanne (Ursula Strauss), a young married couple who live in the country outside of Vienna, are trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. An accident during the robbery forces Alex on the lam, and he ends up living on his grandfather’s farm, adjacent to Robert and Susanne’s home, where guilt, desire, and melancholy roil, and the characters must confront each other and themselves.
Revanche is an incredible film. Crushing and beautiful, it confronts moral and social issues without pandering, and affirms the power of film as art. Speilmann possesses a penetrating visual artistry. With no music and sparse dialogue, the images create the film’s emotional landscape, revealing what the characters cannot say, delineating a world, detail by detail, in which violence coexists with tenderness, and each threaten to burst forth at any moment. From the first image, Revanche engages us aesthetically, emotionally, and intellectually. Though at times utterly sad, Revanche is tinged with a strong sense of hope, both for its characters, and for cinema itself.
>>If Beale Street Could Talk
USA, 1974 | By James Baldwin
James Baldwin’s fifth novel is easily one of the best books we’ve ever read about race in America. But it’s also just a masterful piece of literature. Concise and poetic, it’s an utterly absorbing narrative, a precise and probing investigation of race relations in New York City in the early 1970s.
The story is told by Tish, a 19-year-old girl who is in love with Fonny, a 22-year-old aspiring sculptor who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and desperate to get out so he can marry Tish. Tish is pregnant with Fonny’s baby, and their families navigate tensions and resentments as they try to get Fonny out before the birth, with the help of a beleaguered white lawyer. Tish’s narration is beautiful in its simplicity and displays extraordinary wisdom about justice, society, and love. Teeming with insight — about New York City, black culture, lawful oppression — the novel is illuminating but never preachy, with a vibrant, natural narrative voice that captivates you from the first page.
If Beale Street Could Talk is an essential work of fiction. At just over 200 pages, it reveals a richly textured world of complex cultural and interpersonal relationships, and has more to say about the way we live than books four times its length. And the remarkable and crushing truth of Baldwin’s novel is that its insight is just as applicable today as it surely was 40 years ago. We could say more, but we’ll let Joyce Carol Oates finish this recommendation. “If Beale Street Could Talk is a moving, painful story. It is so vividly human and so obviously based upon reality, that it strikes us as timeless — an art that has not the slightest need of esthetic tricks, and even less need of fashionable apocalyptic excesses.”