One of the most frustrating experiences for a film buff who likes to figure out his top ten films of the year or top 25 films of the decade is when he watches a film on DVD that would have been high on one of those lists but didn’t make it in time (that’s why some of the films in my top 25 of the decade were not in any of my top ten lists).
Today I watched a film that would have been my second favourite film of 2008 and one of my top ten films of the last decade (and one of my top fifty films of all time). I cannot believe I have never heard of this film or seen any other film by its director, who is clearly a man of uncommon genius (on the basis of this film, I would call him one of the greatest filmmakers of our time). When I do my talks on film and theology, I stress that, for me, good films are an art form comparable to the greatest paintings, sculptures, books and classical music. If ever there was a film that could serve as an example of a pure work of art, this is it. Before I tell you the name of the film (those who have seen it may recognize the photo), let me provide the hint that it is an Austrian film nominated for best foreign language film of 2008. I have seen most of the best foreign language nominees of the past decade and, after watching this one, I am ready to state that it is my personal conviction that the real winner of the Academy Awards each year is the winner of the best foreign language film oscar. I would guess that the ten best films made each year in Europe alone are, on average, vastly superior to the ten best films made in Hollywood and far superior to the ten best films made in the U.S. This is just one person’s opinion, of course, but the odds of wasting your time watching any film made in the last thirty years go down about 90% if you limit yourself to films made outside of the U.S. (keeping in mind that the vast majority of my all-time favourite films were made in the U.S.).
Okay, enough with the suspense. What is this brilliant film that has so captured my imagination? What is this film which boasts one of the best cinematographic achievements ever? What is this film which boasts magnificent natural understated acting achievements by all concerned? What is this film which boasts one of the great editing achievements I have seen in a very long time? What is this film which features a magnificent achievement in both writing and directing by a man I have never heard of (though I do own another of his films on DVD and plan to watch it tomorrow)? What is this film which boasts one memorable thought-provoking scene after another and a brilliant use of symbols and images? What is this film of which I can say not one good word about its score, because it has none (the score of A Single Man was a central feature of its impact on me and I generally am no great fan of films that deliberately avoid music, but it worked perfectly in this masterpiece)? Will I ever let you know the name of the film? Yes, I will, but I won’t use a bold font or even capitalize it in case someone tries to jump down quickly to find it (if you are one of those, then you probably also read the back of the DVD case before watching a movie - sigh). The film in question is called revanche, directed by Goetz Spielmann, and no, I will not tell you what it’s about. It’s the kind of humanizing film that makes the word humanizing feel like a cliché (I’ll have to start being more creative in my reviews). It works on an emotional level few films can match even while it avoids both sentimentality and cliché at every turn (and even without a score). This film gets a very easy ****. My mug of Colombia’s finest is held high.
Please note that if you rent (or purchase) the Criterion release of this film (and you must do so soon, if you can handle the sex scenes), you must watch the interview with Spielmann. It is one of the most profound talks on the art of filmmaking and the making of a particular film that I have ever heard; it’s almost as good as the film itself.