(director/writer: Gotz Spielmann; cinematographer: Martin Gschlacht; editor: Karina Ressler; cast: Johannes Krisch (Alex), Ursula Strauss (Susanne), Irina Potapenko (Tamara), Andreas Lust (Robert), Hannes Thanheiser (Old Man Hauser), Hanno Pöschl (Konecny – Tamara’s Boss); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Mathias Forberg/Heinz Stussak/Sandra Bohle/Gotz Spielmann; Janus Films; 2008-Austria-in German with English subtitles)

“Impressive noir film that befits Greek tragedy as it travels deep into sublime territory.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Austrian film-maker Gotz Spielmann (“The Stranger”/”Foreign Land”/”Antares”) directs and writes this impressive noir film that befits Greek tragedy as it travels deep into sublime territory and the film-maker excels at telling a good story. The twisty thriller is more about its hard-pressed characters getting their grip on their troubled lives than in getting an exacting revenge on those who did them wrong, as a bunch of moody unlucky characters confronting through reflection their present dire life situations they didn’t bargain for must find a way to deal with it while dealing with a significant other person that might be living or dead.

Small-time opportunistic criminal and surly ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) works as a bouncer/flunky in the sleazy Cinderella bar/brothel in Vienna owned by the crude, porcine and overbearing Konecny (Hanno Pöschl). Alex’s secret girlfriend is Tamara (Irina Potapenko), the religious Ukrainian immigrant who ironically works as a prostitute in the Cinderella. Tamara is trapped working there because she owes the menacing boss thirty thousand dollars. When Konecny pressures Tamara to live in an upscale flat he provides and to act as a prostitute for big spenders he procures, she decides to run away with Alex to Spain. Alex plans to go partners in a bar there with a friend and needs cash to buy into the business. To get the dough he robs a country bank in an area he knows because his grandfather lives there, but after successfully robbing the bank with an unloaded pistol an inexperienced policeman named Robert (Andreas Lust) becomes suspicious of the parked getaway car where Tamara is sitting and when the bank robber gets the jump on him and takes off, Robert fires a bullet at the fleeing car that accidentally kills Tamara.

The crest-fallen Alex visits his estranged elderly widowed religious grandfather Hauser (Hannes Thanheiser), living at peace with himself in a modest farmhouse just outside of Vienna, in the desolate country area of rural Waldviertel, where the bank was robbed. The frail man refuses to go into a nursing home or stop driving or ever leave his home, and believes Alex has gone bad because he chose to live in the corrupt city instead of the more pristine country. Coincidentally Robert and his lonely grocery store owner wife Susi (Ursula Strauss) are neighbors of Hauser. The thirty-something couple are suffering because they are childless, even though they should be happy because they are living a pressure-free life with middle-class prosperity in their cozy country home. Robert’s depression escalates when he’s ordered by the force to take a leave of absence and see a shrink. The cop is down on himself for his bad luck, as he regrets killing the unidentified Tamara because of the trouble it caused him.

The lives of the cop and robber intersect during his stay with his grandfather, and a tense and unpredictable existential scenario takes place in the stunningly beautiful country wooded lake area. The questioning foursome go somewhat Dreyer on us religiously without being that relentless about it. This makes for a thoughtful naturalistic study on how human nature like worldly nature, makes it possible for violence and beauty to co-exist side by side.

The thriller is greatly helped by splendid photography, an intelligent screenplay and marvelous performances by all concerned.