Pillow Crock: Alex buys gun, concocts harebrained heist.

In writer-director Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, all we see of Vienna is its underside: a thin strip of brothels led by the Cinderella club. There, Tamara (Irina Potapenko) turns tricks and carries on a sub rosa love affair with Alex (Johannes Krisch), a low-level, secretly gentle henchman at the bordello whose boss, Konecny, would kill Alex if he knew. “In the city you end up either arrogant or a scoundrel,” observes Alex’s yokel grandfather, who considers his grandson the latter. The countryside, naturally, stands for everything the city’s dispensed with: hard work instead of seedy shortcuts, neighborliness in place of self-interest. These are familiar linchpins of a moral pageant Spielmann presents with lukewarm tension and not a little beauty. After Konecny’s mounting physical abuse forces Tamara to flee the brothel, Alex plots their escape—it involves the country, but it also involves robbing a rural Volksbank—and after jacking 50,000 euros, Alex’s plans go haywire. The question of how to avenge himself against the hapless village policeman responsible for the heartbreak consumes the remaining hour-plus of the film, and the larger question—how to live once fate has scuttled one’s shortcuts—lurks not far beneath. Once Alex moves in with his cantankerous grandfather (Hannes Thanheiser), he takes refuge in the antiseptic rural quiet while scoffing at, and eventually coming to appreciate, the old guy’s georgic sagesse. At the same time, he unwittingly, and at first unwillingly, brings a spark of life back to the homestead—Granddad even takes out his rusty accordion, which he hasn’t played since his wife died. But the cop who foiled Alex’s plan can’t conceive, and his wife, Susanne (Ursula Strauss), wastes little time in enlisting Alex as a more potent surrogate. If this predictable conquest satisfied Alex’s confused sense of retribution, the film would be as shallow as its pulp-y opening. Instead, Revanche slowly generates an incongruous warmth, in which the question of blame cedes to the notion that tragedy doesn’t obliterate as much as it seems to—and that there’s work to do once life goes on.

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