Revanche and Delta

I’ve developed a lazy habit of saying that I don’t particularly care what a film is about; I care what it does formally. But, while well-directed and wonderfully performed, the standout feature of Gotz Spielmann’s Revanche is the story, which, particularly over the last 80 minutes, is perfectly constructed. Borrowing from scattershot genre conventions (lovers on the run, an escape to the country, the Madonna whore), Revanche is the kind of taut, thinking-adult’s drama that America stopped producing 30 years ago. Although his film maybe lacks so neat a moral dilemma as that posed by The Son, Spielmann matches the Dardennes at the level of execution. Or, more to the point, I was tense and curious for the entire length of the film, and I was completely satisfied by its resolution. (Also, what the Dardennes did for the lumberyard, Spielmann has done for the wood pile.) Highly recommended.

And now I’d like to make my annual request of first-time writer-directors: When you find yourself typing the words “And then she’s raped,” please reach for the backspace key and go for a long walk, because you aren’t working hard enough. I’d lost trust in Kornel Mandruczo well before Delta took its predictable dramatic turn. Although the right influences are on display here (Tarr most of all but also a bit of Angelopoulos), although he sustains an admirable formal rigor throughout the film, and although there are individual moments of knockout beauty, Delta is starving for a purpose. I knew as soon as the rape scene began that I was watching the anti-Revanche, a film built upon a single idea, populated with paper-thin characters, headed inevitably toward a careless, banal conclusion. I suspect that, had Mandrukzo appeared for a Q&A, he would have defended the film in symbolic terms (I won’t be giving anything away to say that the final image is of a pet turtle swimming back into nature), but the ideas animating those symbols are too anemic to justify this mess.