Director in Focus: John Sayles – Silver City



Silver City (2004, dir. John Sayles)
Starring Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfus, Danny Huston, Mary Kay Place, Tim Roth, Thora Birch, Maria Bello, Miguel Ferrer, Billy Zane, Michael Murphy, Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah

John Sayles is not shy about his politics, and this film is definitely the work of a bleeding heart liberal. I myself am a fellow bleeding heart so I sympathize with the sentiments of the picture. However, it is a piece of cinema made out of anger and frustration and, while those elements have helped make great art, they cause Silver City to feel overly bitter and despondent, and way too didactic.

The movie opens on the filming a campaign commercial for gubernatorial hopeful Dickie Pilager (Cooper), the dim-witted son of a former governor of Colorado now believing he can win the seat. Sound familiar? Cooper’s performance, obviously modeled on President George W. Bush was very well done and, as much as I like Josh Brolin, made me wish we could have seen Cooper in Oliver Stone’s W.  During the filming of this commercial, as Pilager casts a rod into the crystalline lake in the frame, he pulls up a hand belonging to a body left in the water. Immediately, Pilager’s campaign manager (Dreyfus) thinks someone is setting Pilager up and hires a detective agency to investigate. The investigator is Danny O’Brien (Huston), a former news reporter who is less than enthusiastic at first. As he journeys deeper he becomes obsessed with Pilager’s connection to a multi-corporate mogul Wes Benteen (Kristoffersen).

On paper, this sounds like a great concept. But it fails, and it fails badly. Huston is completely unnatural in the leading role, proving to me he needs to keep to the supporting ones. I can’t figure out if it was the dialogue or actor, but he comes incredibly stiff and forced in his performance. And with Danny O’Brien as the character we are following, it makes the film that much more painful to get through. Cooper and Dreyfus deliver great performances, but aren’t in enough of the movie to make it work. I would have preferred that it had focused on the Pilager character’s campaign more and been a satire of President Bush. Instead, we get a poorly made activist film where metaphors are incredibly shallow.

The film made me feel very conflicted, as every political note it touches I am right there in support of. But it proves that when views are expressed too overtly they bog a film down. The film takes it self too seriously for the majority of the time, and when it does attempt to go light, such as when Daryl Hannah’s tough hippie character is introduced, the humor feels hollow and tainted by Sayles bitterness. Not the best work of this director; he CAN make great films about his political views (Matewan for example).

Next up: Sunshine State and my final thoughts on John Sayles.

Cinematic Television – The Dramas

While I have not yet seen The Wire, I know that so many people view it as the epitome of great television drama. I plan on watching it one day, and I see it as one of those great works of literature that I want to find the perfect time for fully absorbing it. That said, these are some other great dramas on the tube right now.



Mad Men (2007 – present, created by Matthew Weiner)
Starring Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Mitchell, January Jones, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, Bryan Batt, Aaron Staton, Michael Gladis, Rich Sommer, Robert Morse, Kiernan Shipka

Mad Men is a series that hinges completely on a contemporary audiences knowledge of their society, so that they may contrast it with irony of early 1960s American culture. The focal point of the show is Madison Avenue ad exec Don Draper, played with calm and cool ease by Jon Hamm. Draper is man with a very distinct set of personal moral beliefs. Sleeping around on his wife isn’t a huge deal, and when she seeks psychiatric help, making regular calls to the shrink for a report on what his wife has said is never a violation of her privacy, its his right as a husband. The male-dominated culture around him doesn’t work to convince him otherwise though. But Draper is an imposter in this world, through out all of the three seasons which have aired he comes up against a fear of his past being exposed.

As foils to Don, we’re given three other characters: Peggy Olson, Betty Draper, and Pete Campbell. Each is in a place where they are unsure of their identity. Peggy is girl from Brooklyn who starts out as Don’s secretary, but finds herself moving up the ladder of power in the office incredibly quickly. Betty, Don’s wife, is not content at playing house after living as a model in Europe before she met Don. Her transformation over the three season has been the most dramatic and it is hard to predict where her character will go.

Pete is the most direct parallel to Don, a salesman at the Sterling/Cooper ad agency, he is from a family that expected more “respectable” work out of him and are completely opposed to supporting his life. Pete is newly married and seems at times disinterested in his bride, and other completely devoted to her. While Don seems representative of the Old Way, Pete is our manifestation of new ideas coming into society. Pete is confused when, after crunching the numbers and discovering the black community is buying a client’s brand of television more than the white, the client rejects his ideas to directly market to that minority. He sees it as both socially and economically ignorant.

The series is respectful of its adult audience. There’s little chance adolescents will enjoy the series, and the writers believe that the grown ups watching don’t need every emotion and thought telegraphed through blunt dialogue. There are long moments of silence in the series, where the only information we receive is through a simple look of Don’s, or the frustrated body language of Betty. This complete rejection of dumbed down television is an oasis in the desert. It makes each and every episode come across as highly cinematic and important.

Breaking Bad (2007 – present, created by Vince Gilligan)
Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk

If you are only familiar with Bryan Cranston through his work as the befuddled father on Malcolm in the Middle you will be in for a shock. The same frenetic energy that informed Hal on the Fox sitcom, if filtered through a simmering boil in Breaking Bad. Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who works part-time at a car wash to pay the bills. He has a teenaged son with cerebral palsy and a baby daughter on the way. One day, he collapses at work and learns he has terminal lung cancer. Walter keeps this a secret from his family and decides on a whim to join his DEA brother in law as a ride along on a meth lab raid. One of his students ends up being the meth cook who escapes from the raid and Walter tracks him down with a proposition: they work together to make and sell as much meth as possible. Walter reasons this will get him enough money for some experimental cancer treatment and, if he does die, provide his wife with a major financial cushion. Thus begins Walter White’s descent into Hell.

For the first half of the first season, Walter is unsure of himself. He is confident in the lab and he knows how to cook meth of a quality his partner, Jesse, and the DEA have never seen before. It’s not till the second half of the first season that Walter explodes. A mix of chemo therapy and the impending concept of his own death pounding in his skull forces the meek man to become a force of violence. This doesn’t come without a cost though, as strong as his newly found fury may be, he is also ignorant of the inner workings of the big money trade. Walter inevitably draws the attention of the wrong people and ends up in multiple circumstances where he is close to being murdered.

While Walter is descending, his young partner, Jesse is trying to emerge from the drug fueled mire he has sunken into. At one point, he tries to reconnect with his family, whom roundly reject him. Jesse has a brief foray into a rehabilitated life, but is pulled back down by Walter. A palpable sense of tragedy surrounds the young man and its becoming apparent the weight that won’t let him live his life is our protagonist. The place the second season ends leaves both characters in an unknown place. They are burdened by a massive loss of life that is the result of their actions; Walter has come out on top though, and Jesse, once again is left with the bloodied hands. Where these characters go to next is going to be a fascinating journey.



Damages (2007 – present, created by Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler)
Starring Rose Byrne, Glenn Close, Tate Donovan
Featuring Ted Danson, Zeljko Ivanek, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Timothy Olyphant, Campbell Scott, Martin Short, Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine

Damages starts with the typical prime time drama setting, a law office. But that is where the similarities with your typical law drama end. Borrowing a device from Lost, flash-forwards, Damages allows us to glimpse pieces of the end of season while going back to the beginning and moving forward from there. The series follows law school graduate Ellen Parsons, who is hired at Hewes & Associates, to work underneath infamous lawyer Patty Hewes. Hewes’ focus is primarily in cases against large corporations, on the part of citizens harmed by them. While her goals are admirable, Patty has a “by any means necessary” approaching to getting her way. She lies, cheats, steals, and even hires people to kill those who are getting in her way.

Each season focuses on a single case, allowing it to be played out in great detail and devoting an equal amount of time to the defense. Much like Law & Order, the cases draw on real life events, but because they are for such larger stakes it only makes sense that it take 13 episodes for them to play out. Season One featured an Enron type case, wherein billionaire Arthur Frobisher convinced his employees to invest in company stock, only to defraud them and abscond with their life savings. Season Two is a more generic environmental case, where an energy company is knowingly withholding data that proves their practices have caused harm to the population. And in the current season, the series is tackling a Bernie Madoff parallel with an incredibly stellar guest cast. If you enjoy typical law dramas, but want something with more continuity and depth then definitely give Damages a shot.

Next: Science Fiction & Fantasy

Seventies Saturdays – The Great White Hope

The Great White Hope (1970, dir. Martin Ritt)
Starring James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Lou Gilbert, Joey Fluellen

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Great White Hope is a “names changed” version of the career of Jack Johnson, an African-American boxer during the early 20th century. Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion and was known for patiently waiting for his opponent to slip up, then barraging him with a series of incapacitating blows. Johnson was a figure of great controversy, not just because he was a threat to the white male ego in the boxing ring, but because all of the women he became seriously involved with were white. Johnson showed little sense of humility about his dealings and was one of the first public figures to really use controversy as a way to promote his own celebrity.

In the film, Jack Jefferson (Jones) has just defeated the heavyweight champion and is celebrating this achievement with much bravado. The African-American community is divided about Jefferson though. While those around him immediately after the fight revel with him and dance in the streets, there are others who see Jefferson has creating negative image for their people because of his brazeness. Another group see Jefferson as being nothing but an “uncle tom” by consorting with white women and embracing what they see as a white way of life. Jefferson has an interesting take on all of this. In a scene early on, after he is weighed in before the big bout, an older black gentleman mentions that the young men will be inspired and “proud to be colored” when Jefferson wins. The boxer replies that they should already be proud and his winning or losing should have nothing to do with it. An interesting idea when thinking about the role of athletes as “role models” in contemporary society.

Jefferson and his fiancee, Eleanor’s relationship is played very well, but we don’t get enough background to understand how they came together. They are very much in love, but we’re never shown how, despite the social stigma of their relationship, they would defy it and stay together. The film also has some problems with how broadly a lot of characters are played. The white establishment villains literally “bwahahaha” at one point in the final scenes, and it would have been interesting to see them played with more internal conflict. Jane Alexander’s performance as Eleanor is also ruined by the pointless turn her character is forced to take, mainly to serve as momentum to move Jefferson forward to the finale. The one standout performance is James Earl Jones as Jefferson; he plays the character as incredibly multi-layered. Jefferson is charming and intelligent, but also selfish and arrogant. He loves Eleanor deeply but is resentful when he realizes she’ll never understand the limitations put on him.

Wild Card Tuesday – Hunger


Hunger (2008, dir. Steve McQueen)

Starring Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham
The fight between Catholic and Protestant sides in Northern Ireland has devastated that country since the late 1960s. Each side has visited monolithic brutality on the other in of the greatest displays of community inflicting such cruelty on itself. But the cruelty that was the worst, was that of employees of the British empire on IRA members imprisoned in facilities across the country. Director Steve McQueen never give support for the terrorist actions of the IRA, but advocates that all prisoners, regardless of their crimes, deserve humane treatment.
The film’s focus is real life IRA soldier Bobby Sands (Fassbender). While the film doesn’t explicitly cover his activities with the IRA, he was no saint. He helped ferry weapons for the movement and was involved in the bombing of a furniture store in 1976. The film chooses to portray Sands as a figure unwilling to budge an inch for the brutal authority crashing down around his head. In this effort he has allowed himself to become dehumanized. Simply put, he has been caged and treated like an animal, so he will behave like one. Sands smears the walls of his cell with his own feces, allows the daily meals to rot and mold in a corner, and funnels his bed pan (synchronized with the other prisoners) out into the hallway. Is it vile? Yes. But there something innate within us that despise authority that wishes to break us, so it comes off as bizarrely admirable.
Bobby’s most memorable, and final, triumph came when he began a hunger strike in 1981 which took his life after several painful months of starvation. Michael Fassbender destroyed his body through malnutrition to take on the gaunt, sunken appearance of a Holocaust victim. He become the specter of death with additional help from an incredibly talented makeup department. His back is covered in open sores, he’s unable to urinate for the prison doctor’s physical, and he stains his sheets with black, acrid blood. The moments before Sands passes are truly powerful. The film moves into his consciousness as hallucinations of his younger self appear and his mind travels back to long distance race where he and both Prot and Catholic youths ran together, in fields of golden amber. Director McQueen doesn’t want you to take the IRA’s side, he wants you to realize how irrelevant any side is, and simply see a man dying.
The aesthetic choice made by McQueen are magnificent. For the first 30 minutes of the film there is little or no dialogue. Only 50 minutes in is there an actual conversation between two people for extended amount of time. Here Sands and a priest from his community debate the point of standing in defiance of authority. The priest tells Sands he must submit to the uniform being enforced on the prisoners and Sands simply won’t budge. Once again, neither side wins in the debate. They simply come to the conclusion that neither of them will change their ideas about it. Hunger is one of the best examples of director using the language of cinema to tell a visceral and moving story. There is no maudlin sentimentality, yet there is a deep emotional core. Not for those lacking a strong constitution, but one of the most amazing British films I’ve ever seen.

Seventies Saturdays – Johnny Got His Gun


Johnny Got His Gun (1971, dir. Dalton Trumbo)

Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland
Here we have a film directed by the author of the novel on which is based. This author, Dalton Trumbo was investigated by the FBI as a result of the novel’s publication, and later blacklisted during the McCarthy Communist witch hunt. While blacklisted, he was given his widest recognition as the screenwriter of Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. And it was during the twilight of the Vietnam War he decided to adapt his controversial novel. While on the surface, the film is condemnation of war by how it treats the men on the frontlines, Trumbo is expanding his theme to comment on the fragility of life and man’s right to die with dignity.
Joe Bonham (Bottoms) is introduced as a body under a sheet. He’s not dead, but was shredded by shrapnel from a mortar shell fired on the last day of World War I. The doctors maintain an unrealistically upbeat outlook and have Joe put in a utility room so as not to upset the other wounded men. We learn who Joe is through the meanderings of his consciousness now in this eternally paralyzed state. The horror of Joe’s condition is unfolded to us gradually: first they take his arms, then his legs, ultimately he learns his face has been scooped out. All that exists is a screaming mind in a paralyzed frame.
As Joe tries to make sense of this in his mind, he returns to moments with his late father (Robards) and consults with a Jesus of his own invention (Sutherland). His memories begin as real events in his past and morph into surreal fantasies about his loss. One of the most touching moments of the film comes early on. On Joe’s last night before shipping out, he and his teenaged girlfriend decide to have sex for the first time. This scene is played with such beauty and tenderness. Every nervous movement is captured perfectly, and the scene aches with a bittersweet sense of how these characters are experiencing such great joy, a joy that inevitably will die.
The genius of the film is that it never takes political sides. In essence, it truly supports the troops, because it is all about them. Joe is a child who was sent off by old men who use their children to fight wars. He did his duty and suffered great wounds. And now, with no future besides being a lump of meat locked in a closet, he is denied a basic right to have his life ended. Joe eventually figures out a means of communicating with those around him, only to find his new voice stifled and the realization that the people around Joe, because of their own fears of death, want to simply forget that he ever existed.

Import Fridays – The White Ribbon


The White Ribbon (2009, dir. Michael Haneke)

Cruel parents create cruel children. That is the moral of Austrian director Michael Haneke’s latest film, The White Ribbon. The object of the title is a device used as part of a technique implemented by the village minister to remind his children of purity. It’s no coincidence that children in a German village, whom will be adults when the rise of the Nazi party occurs, are shown wearing white armbands symbolizing purity. Haneke is not at work to simply tell the story of the psychological birth of the Nazi movement, rather he want to study and dissect what motivates terrorists and those who kill from a nationalist motivation.
In a small northern German village, about a year before World War I begins, a series of premeditated attacks occur. What sets things off is when the village doctor is thrown from his horse as the result of an near invisible wire strung across his property. Authorities find the wire vanishes over night and no one saw anybody tie it up there. The film is very fragmented and jumping from household to household, focusing on the interactions of parents and children. Like most Haneke films, he keeps things very ambiguous. He knows what to state outright and what to hint at.
Someone burns down a barn. A child is murdered. Another child is beaten severely and strung up in the town’s sawmill. I was reminded of Haneke’s 2005 picture, Cache, where the protagonist is presented with a mystery of someone filming the exterior of his flat for hours and hours, then mailing him the tape. Haneke cultivates mystery, presents us with plausible suspects, and then ends the film. A very similar technique is used here, so if you are someone who likes things wrapped neatly, this isn’t a film for you. However, if you enjoy philosophically contemplating the nature of evil and acts of tragedy visited on seemingly normal, undeserving people this is a fascinating picture.
German society at this time lives and dies on hierarchy and adherence to strict religious and moral tenets. In life you serve the land baron and thresh his fields, you go to church, and you never step out of place. So, for such chaotic acts to begin in the village is a cause for the erosion of propriety. As Haneke peers under the roofs of the villagers we quickly see no one submits to this system out of honest belief, they submit because they are beaten into it. What Haneke has done is make a film much less about the specifics of German society and about our own contemporary global culture of cruelty.

Jolly Good Thursdays – Naked


Naked (1993, dir. Mike Leigh)

Starring David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Gregg Crutwell, Claire Skinner
When viewing a Mike Leigh film you typically expect to see a slice of life portrayal of contemporary England. The focus will on the ins and outs of daily life for working class people. However, with this picture, Leigh creates an abrasive, violent, surreal universe which does adhere to the tenets of his standard films: there are no big illuminating answers or moments.
We first see Johnny (Thewlis), the film’s protagonist, in the middle of raping a woman in an alleyway. Hardly a way to endear us the character we’ll be following through the rest of the movie. The woman runs away saying she’s going to get brothers and they will beat Johnny to death. Johnny runs home, grabs a few things, steals a car and heads to London where he imposes himself on old flame Sophie (Sharp). Johnny gets involved with Sophie’s flatmate (Cartlidge), leaves in a huff and encounters a series of strange characters living and working in London. Johnny is paralleled by Jeremy (Crutwell) an utter misogynist and sociopath that gives Patrick Bateman a run for his money.
Director Leigh seems to be using Naked as sandbox in which to play with the audience’s expectations of their characters and the flow of plot in film. There is a palpable trajectory to the film for its first 30 minutes, and then suddenly it veers off into an episodic series of encounters between Johnny and other random characters. The introduction of Jeremy is intentionally confusing and appears to have no bearing on the overall plot of the film. Jeremy’s abusive exploits don’t feature any characters from Johnny’s portion of the film and seem as if they were cut in from another film. When the two plots cross into each other in the last 40 minutes of the film there is no explosive conflict or release of tension.
Naked could easily be seen as an extremely misogynistic film, but that would be selling short. Yes, women are brutalized numerous times throughout the film, Jeremy himself rapes about three women. However, I think Leigh is testing us to see what we will accept from characters in a film. What is the line they cross that makes them intolerable for us? In addition, every single characters is away from home: Johnny is on the run, Sophie is sub-leasing, her friend Sandra (Skinner) is off traveling through Zimbabwe. The moment the film finds its resolution is when all the characters have assembled in Sandra’s flat after she has returned home. It’s in this moment the genre of the film becomes rapid fire and even more absurd. There are elements of farce, romance, drama, and in the end it all falls apart. Johnny ends up even more broken than he had been at the start and where is going is now unknown and inevitably even further into the gutter.

Newbie Wednesday – Mammoth


Mammoth (2009, dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito, Sophie Nyweide, Nathhamonkarn Srinkikornchot
We are constantly alone, even when we’re with the ones we love. And when the decision comes to be away for money, we seem to choose to be away even if it makes us miserable. Swedish director Lukas Moodysson examines these ideas in a very well-acted, but ultimately cold and derivative film. The strongest influences here are the work of Alejandro Innaritu (Babel, Amore Perros) and the 2005 film Crash.
The picture begins with the happy family at play: Leo (Bernal) is a video game designer, Ellen (Williams) is an emergency room doctor specializing in pediatrics, and their daughter, Jackie (Nyweide) is a precocious child caught up in her love of astronomy. Also in their lives is Gloria (Necesito), a live in cook/maid/nanny whom Jackie seems much closer to. Leo leaves for a long business trip in Thailand and Ellen becomes caught up in the tragedy of a stab wound victim brought to her and jealousy of Gloria and her daughter. Gloria is dealing with anxiety of being separated from her own sons back in the Philippines.
Moodysson’s outlook on the world is a bit too simple and feels very predictable. Ellen’s jealousy over Gloria could be seen from the opening frames of the film, and doesn’t really develop in relevant way. The situation with Gloria’s children also comes to a close on a very unsure note, and not in a thought-provokingly ambiguous way, but rather uninspired. The film also makes some bland cross cutting: a pile of elephant dung is followed by Gloria cleaning toilets. These scenes feel more proud of how clever they are than really possessing any real cleverness.
The problem with not creating any sort of metaphors between his ideas and his characters, causes Moodysson to end up moralizing to us in the most patronizing of ways. Much like Crash, a horrific example of patronizing and pretentious cinema, Mammoth slaps us over the head with its message multiple times and then with a barrage in the final scenes. At the end of the day though, the question arises “What is the point?” Yes, I think everyone is aware of the global disparity of wealth and power. The film provides no ideas as to where we go next, which makes it makes of little value.

Wild Card Tuesday – Fish Tank


Fish Tank (2009, dir. Andrea Arnold)

Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing
Mia is angry at everyone and everything. She headbutts a girl for simply mouthing off to her. She fights constantly with her mother. She’s considered an oddball by the boys. She’s been kicked out of school. This her last chance. Andrea Arnold’s portrait of a 15 year old girl growing up in contemporary Essex, England is an incredibly immersing film. I have to admit, I sat down to watch it less than enthused but found myself completely engrossed in the picture. Arnold’s emphasis on naturalism comes shining through and every frame of the film feels honest and real.
Mia’s world is changed when her mother brings Conner home. Conner is a handsome, charming man who treats Mia and her younger sister with kindness. The four make a nice little family, going out for a drive in the country one day, and Conner and Mia catching a fish together. But there is a palpable tension between Mia and Conner. The film constantly veers from her seeing him as a replacement father but also an object of sex. And for a girl in Mia’s situation, such a confusion would be understandable. There is no single strong male or female influence in the girl’s world, so when one comes along she clings to him for dear life.
There’s a recurring action of Mia’s that is glanced in the first moments of the film and repeated throughout. A ragged emaciated horse stands chained to large boulder in the middle of gravel covered field. Mia climbs a fence and uses a stone to smash at the chain and free the horse. With each attempt she find the action more and more futile. Another action which Mia repeats again and again is when she busts into an abandoned tenement flat and practice hip hop dancing. Music becomes a link between she and Conner and also a possible mode of escape. Where Mia and her family end up is a balanced mix of sadness and hope, and Conner’s role in it all is the most shocking.
The film is all about newcomer Katie Jarvis who, in her film debut, is absolutely amazing. Katie’s personal life is not too different from her character’s. She was a mother at 16 and was discovered while screaming at her boyfriend on the street. The same anger and fire in Mia is all brought to the film by Katie herself. Director Andrea Arnold is also a powerful force, making this world feel completely honest and knowing when and what to show the audience. An amazing achievement in contemporary British cinema.

Import Fridays – Revanche


Revanche (2008, dir. Götz Spielmann)

Starring Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Ursula Strauss, Andreas Lust, Johannes Thanheiser, Hanno Pöschl
The desire to lash out in revenge against those you believe have wronged you is a deep and powerful urge in humanity. Particularly when the actions of another have caused great loss in your life. The issue of the death penalty bring up the philosophical questions of what we are entitled to when wronged in horrendous ways, and the fact that there is no end in sight to such a debate is proof of how nuanced and complex it is. Revanche, a 2008 Austrian film, takes on this debate and provides many more questions.
Alex is an ex-con, who has gotten romantically involved with Tamara, a Ukranian prostitute that works at the brothel where Alex is a handyman. The must keep their relationship secret from the brothel owner who has designs on turning Tamara into a sex slave for his higher end clients. Alex devises a plan to run away with Tamara, rob a bank, and live their days out in Ibiza. He has a perfect plan. Paul is a police officer who is uncomfortable with his sidearm and the way his fellow officers talk casually about shooting and killing perps. He happens to end up in front of a bank one morning and finds a woman sitting nervously in a car and praying to herself. Paul asks some questions and a tragedy occurs.
Revanche is about two men living in their personal Hells. Alex is torn apart by the loss in life following the bank robbery and Paul is equally shattered by the results of his actions. The two men’s lives become more and more entwined until the film’s climax which is surprisingly redemptive. The heart of the film is Alex’s grandfather, Hausner, a man living on a farm in the deep woods. He has just lost his wife and has not allowed it to crush his spirit. Hausner seeks out the simplicity of life, finding enjoyment a meal of bread and sausage and picking up his old accordion and remembering his youth. Hausner starts out as a convenience for Alex, a place to hideout but goes on to inform Alex on how he can cope with his loss.
Also central to the story is Susanne, Paul’s wife. She miscarried three months before the start of the film and even before Paul’s incident at the bank there is a distance between the two. Susanne ends up being an unofficial caretaker of Hausner, visiting with him in his home and accompanying him to church on Sundays. She develops a friendship with Alex that plays out in a very unlikely way and ends up binding Alex and Paul together forever. The way Revanche comes to its finale, a meeting between Alex and Paul by a pond in the woods, felt very atypical compared to what an American-ized version of this film would do. Despite its bleak and violent world, the film leaves us on a note of hope that we don’t have to be shackled to the pain of our pasts.