[Editor’s note: This was originally published during the 22nd Edition of the AFI Film Festival.]
The 22nd edition of the AFI Film Festival opened with Doubt, a last minute replacement for The Soloist which Dreamworks pulled from its November release date in the midst of a very crowded award season. Along with the NYFF and London’s BFI film fest, the AFI Fest acts as a year-end festival that benefits from being set in a easily maneuverable city and is set during a strategically interesting time of the year. These festivals celebrate the best in cinema from previous Euro fest heavyweights such as Cannes, Berlin and Venice but they carry their own clout – adding some world premieres of their own to the mix.
Located in Hollywood, the fest acts as a great launching pad for award season, and for obvious reasons is a place where you could run into Hollywood’s major players — at any given screening you could be sitting next to a prominent voice in the industry, most of the time filmmakers use the fest as a hub to try and catch up on films that they missed due to their busy schedule. I happened to notice the likes of David Fincher who was in the queue for the screening of Che and Walter Salles, Curtis Hanson and Rebecca Yeldham were lined up for a showing of Hunger.
The first film I saw was Revanche, Austria’s entry in this year’s race for the Best Foreign film at the Academy Awards. A superb existential thriller that haunts you long after you’ve left the theater, writer/director Götz Spielmann cleverly uses the thriller genre to dig deep into the psyche of his characters. Petty criminal Alex works in a brothel where he falls in love with the Ukrainian prostitute Tamara. In order to escape this life, Alex plans to rob the bank in his estranged father’s village. However the robbery doesn’t go as planned and those remaining are left to pick up the pieces. Avoiding cheap sentimentality and one of those scores that pushes buttons, Spielmann’s set piece will draw you in.
I interviewed the writer and director Spielmann at the Rosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
Yama Rahimi: What was your inspiration for this film?
Götz Spielmann: You know by being attentive and watchful in life material is collected to an idea. In this case I remember two important things. I made several hikes in the locations of the film where I walked through the magic landscape two years before the screenplay. Another source of inspiration was the ancient tragedy that my movie has something to do with.
YR: The character of Tamara is a tragic figure and she haunts the main characters and the audience throughout the film. Tell us about her.
GS: Well some years before the film I made some researches on prostitutes. In Austria a lot of the prostitutes come from the Ukraine and I learned a lot about the sad scene and needs that are part of that milieu. It was important for me not to tell the story from the outside or a moral position that judges the character.
YR: Would you agree to call this film an existential thriller?
GS: Yeah. Why not? It’s not my task to make any interpretations. Any good film has several interpretations. I like your interpretation but I don’t work with interpretations. I just try to make personal movies that are as personal and good as possible. I’m more interested in the audience perception than mine.
YR: What filmmakers inspired you?
GS: Well of course I was inspired by a lot of movies but the one that inspired are Cassavetes, Ozu, Tarkovsky, Fellini and Antonioni.
YR: Can you tell us backstory to how Janus picked up your film for theatrical distribution?
GS: They loved the film and want to get back to distribution again. All I can say is that I’m really happy and little proud because Janus and Criterion are for me a kind of hall of fame for the art of cinema and they are not such a bad company to be with. [Ed’s note: Read news headline here.]
YR: Are you excited about your film being considered for the Academy Awards?
GS: I’m honored but not excited. I’m rather relaxed. I will get excited if we actually get the nomination.
YR: Well Austria won the Oscar last year for the Counterfeiters, so it’s great follow up. I prefer your film to that one.
Revanche is being released in theaters May 1st release.