Robert (Andreas Lust) and Susanne (Ursula Strauss) live an ordinary country life in the quiet woods near Vienna. Away from the big city, where only money rules, as Alex and Tamara (Johannes Krisch and Irina Potapenko) know only too well, trapped in the system. She is a prostitute, originally from Ukraine; he's her boss' errand boy. They are lovers, but they have to keep it a secret. To escape from their situation, Alex devises a plan to rob a bank in a village he knows near his grandfather's (Johannes Thanheiser) farm. But Robert, the local cop, turns up, and shoots at their getaway car, hitting Tamara. Overcome with despair, Alex leaves the body behind in a forest clearing and hides at his grandfather's farm. When Susanne visits to keep the old man company, she strikes up a friendship with Alex that leads to a chain of events which changes all their lives in unexpected ways.
Review by Louise Keller:
A Ukranian prostitute, a bank robber, an old man with an accordion, a cop with a conscience, a wife with an empty nursery. These are the key characters of writer director Götz Spielmann's intoxicating thriller in which blame, guilt, revenge and retribution are the themes. Brilliantly conceived and executed, one of the wonderful things about the film is that we are constantly surprised. I love the fact that the story is not what we expect, nor are the angles and the perspectives. We are introduced to the characters in snapshots and slowly we become privy to the way they intersect. Beguiling storytelling keeps us engaged from the first frame; the full implications keep unravelling until the very last.
The reflection of upside down fir trees in a calm pond in the Austrian countryside is interrupted by a splash, followed by circles of ripples. Action, reaction and consequences. This imagery is the first thing we see and one which lingers. There's a woman cooking, a man mowing a lawn, a raunchy sex scene in the shower followed by take away pizza on the bed. Then we are led into a brothel called Cinderella, where the girls are anything but. The focus is on the relationship between Irena Potapenko's prostitute Tamara and her lover Alex (Johannes Krisch), who is the Yes Man for the brothel's pimp. Alex is recently out of jail and has the future all worked out. Unlike the guns being used for target practice by the police squad, Alex's gun is not loaded, so he is adamant that nothing can go wrong when he robs the out-of-town bank near his recently widowed grandfather's farm.
Krisch delivers a great performance as Alex goes through a vast array of emotions in the course of the narrative. He is convincing at every turn and the scenes when he violently chops the never-ending supply of firewood suggest a man exploding with anger and grief. The relationships are complex and so are the emotions. There is not a false moment as Spielmann guides us confidently throughout. The tranquil locations are at odds with the emotional undertones and revenge reverberates like those ripples in the pond.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's not until much later in the film that we recognise the significance of the opening shot of a splash in the quiet woodside lake - and when we do, it registers as the single most symbolic act in the story. Austrian filmmaker Götz Spielmann has fashioned a screenplay that is at once naturalistic and an essay on the human condition. Two different kinds of guilt are at work in two different kinds of men. Robert (Andreas Lust) is a quiet, small town cop who doesn't strive for a high profile, heroic sort of career. Married life in the woods is peaceful.
Alex (Johannes Krisch) is stuck in a grubby city job for a brothel operator in Vienna, desperate to get out of that rut, along with his Ukrainian girlfriend, who has a large debt to pay off - via prostitution at the brothel. He's not a career criminal, but an opportunistic one. He lets Tamara (Irina Potapenko) come along in the car while he robs the small town bank near his grandpa's farm. He knows the area, but he can't escape the bit of bad luck that puts Robert and him and Tamara on the spot by accident.
In a split second, bad luck and bad choices collide for the perfect storm of an accident that indicts both men, but in different ways. Their guilt drives the drama from here on. But Spielmann's film is unlike a typical genre film that this might have been - hence its presence amongst the Foreign Language Oscar nominees. Spielmann goes into great detail - which is ironic since he tends to avoid the close up - as we funnel into the lives of the central characters, especially Alex and Tamara, whose relationship and circumstances are given more screen time in the outstanding first half of the film.
The construction of the drama is clear to see, as Spielmann sets up the revelations that will shock his characters and change their lives. He orchestrates one particularly important emotional element (concerning parenthood) with bravado; at first it seems a shift in tone and style, until the final moments.
Marvellous performances help to make this a riveting film with much to say about human nature; we explore our own moral codes and emotional responses along the way, as paths cross, lives change and the mysteries of what makes us tick remain mysteries.
Published April 16, 2009
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CAST: Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, Hanno Pöschl, Ursula Strauss, Johannes Thanheiser
PRODUCER: Götz Spielmann, Sandra Bohle, Mathias Forberg, Heinz Stussak
DIRECTOR: Götz Spielmann
SCRIPT: Götz Spielmann
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Martin Gschlacht
EDITOR: Karina Ressler
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maria Gruber
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: World Movies* 2009 screenings: Saturday April 11, 6.30pm; Monday 27 April 11:00am; Tuesday 28 April 12:00am; Sunday 14 June 11:25am.[BREAK]* World Movies is a subscription movie channel available on Foxtel and Austar