You Bet Your Life

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Bavaria Films International

PALM SPRINGS -- Something of a Bavarian "Leaving Las Vegas," Austria's official best foreign-language film submission tells the gritty, warts-and-all story of a compulsive gambler who rolls away every probable shot at redemption.

It's not the most original story in the world, but "You Bet Your Life" (Spiele Leben), a first feature by Antonin Svoboda that was screened at the recent Palm Springs International Film Festival, nevertheless manages to take the viewer willingly along on its dead end journey thanks to some gripping performances by Georg Friedrich and Birgit Minichmayr.

When we first meet Svoboda's Kurt, he already is in sweaty, downward spiral mode. Up to his bloodshot eyeballs in gambling debts, he has managed to alienate anybody who ever fed his addiction, including his long-suffering girlfriend and his religious father.

He ultimately decides to let the roll of a die appropriated from an older woman determine his every move, which leads him to the energetic Tanja (Minichmayr), a high-spirited drug addict with whom he develops an intense, sexually charged, Sid and Nancy-type of relationship.

It's a testament to Friedrich's acting ability that his character remains watchable despite having demonstrated a serious disregard for redeemable qualities; while Minichmayr ("Downfall") conjures up a bit of that alluring spark exhibited by Bette Midler circa "The Rose."

While director Svoboda and co-writer Katharina Held generally keep things on the raw, unsentimental side, they tend to go a little heavy on that die motif, especially when it comes to the film's six alternate endings.

It's a gimmicky gambit that obviously was shooting for intriguing, but no dice.
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