Chinese Roulette

Chinese Roulette

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Produced by Michael Fengler
Barbet Schroeder
Written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring Margit Carstensen
Ulli Lommel
Anna Karina
Macha Méril
Alexander Allerson
Music by Peer Raben
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Editing by Ila von Hasperg
Release date(s) 16 November 1976 (Paris premiere)
22 April 1977 (Germany)
Running time 82 minutes
Country Germany
Language German
Budget DEM 1,100,000(estimated)[1]

Chinese Roulette (German: Chinesisches Roulette) is a 1976 German film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It stars Margit Carstensen, Ulli Lommel and Anna Karina.[2] The film, a bleak psychological drama, centers on a truth guessing game, which gives the film its title. The plot follows a bourgeois married couple whose infidelities are exposed by their disabled child.

Contents

Plot

Ariane and Gerhard Christ, a wealthy Munich couple, are packing before going off for the weekend, which each intends to spend separately abroad. While away, their twelve-year-old daughter Angela, who is disabled and walks with crutches, has to remain home under the care of her governess, Traunitz. Actually, the couple have lied about their travel intentions. Convinced that his wife and daughter are elsewhere, Gerhard takes his longtime French hairdresser mistress Irene Cartis on a weekend tryst to the family's country house.

The Christ’s family rural estate is run by a sinister housekeeper named Kast and her sexually ambiguous, son Gabriel. While Kast, a cruel and cranky old woman, is irritated by the visit of her employers, her son Gabriel, a pretentious aspiring writer, is hoping to exploit Gerhard's connections to get his work published. Upon entering the house with his lover Irene, Gerhard runs to the living room, only to find, Ariane on the floor with her lover, Kolbe, Gerhard’s assistant. The two couples try to overcome the uncomfortable situation and are able to laugh about the absurdity of it. They all have dinner together and, over coffee, Gabriel is allowed to read from the philosophical book he has written. He is interrupted by the arrival of Angela, who secretly planned this encounter out of hate for her parents lack of affection. She shows up with her mute governess, Traunitz and a small army of grotesque dolls. Ariane is furious with the antics of her daughter and tries to hit her but Gerhard does not allow her. Angela is defiant and on their part the two adulterous couples decide to continue as planned.

Angela tells Gabriel that her disability originated with her parents infidelities. Eleven years before when her father started her relationship with his mistress, Angela’s illness appeared and when her mother begun an affair with Kolbe, the doctors declared Angela’s condition as hopeless. However Kast, later dismissed the child’s allegation as nonsense. The next morning Angela goes from room to room to say good morning to her parents and finds them naked with their respective lovers. During the day as the adulterous Christs come to terms with their respective infidelities, Angela tries to play them and their lovers off each other.

The stage is laid for a night of suspenseful revelation when Angela, on the second night, suggests playing Chinese Roulette, a psychologically guessing game, tinged with cruelty. In Chinese Roulette, one team tries to guess which of them the other team is thinking of by asking questions. Angela selects the members of each team. In one side are: Gerhardt, Angela, Gabriel and Traunitz. On the other are: Ariane, Katz, Irene and Kolbe. Arianes’s team asks the questions and Angela’s team gives the answers. The game has an edge of cruelty and the results are explosive involving everyone in the chateau.

The deadliest and final question posed is "What would this person be in the Third Reich?" Caught off guard by the hostility of Angela's response of saying she would be a commandant of a concentration camp, the mother shoots Traunitz--which turns out to be only a superficial flesh wound. Irritated by Gabriel Angela tells him that for the last two years she has known that he has plagiarized every word he has written. The film ends in mystery as a second shot is heard in the darkened house, but the identity of the shooter and the victim is left to the viewer's imagination.

Cast

Production

Chinese Roulette was Fassbinder's first international co-production and his most expensive film up to that point.[1] It was produced by Michael Fengler's Albatros Production, Les Films du Losange and Tango Films.[1] It was shot during seven weeks between April and June 1976.[1] The location for the country house where the story takes places was actually a small castle at Stockach in Unterfranken that belonged to Fassbinder's cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus.[1]

The cast is formed by actors from Fassbinder's regular troupe: Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, Volker Spengler and Ulli Lommel. [1] Being a French co production Fassbinder used two French stars: Anna Karina and Macha Méril, both of whom had earlier appeared in the films of Jean-Luc Godard. Fassbinder added another German actor, Alexander Allerson. There are few children in Fassbinder's films.[1] The bitter disabled daughter is played by Andrea Schober who Fassbinder cast earlier in The Merchant of the Four Seasons (1972) also as witness of her parents infidelities.[3]

Reception

A sophisticated and stylish cinematic physiological game, Chinese Roulette was coldly received in West Germany.[4] Criticism centered on the cold intellectualism of the film.[4] American critic Andrew Sarris devoted an entire university course to the analysis of Chinese Roulette.[5]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Watson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 168
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent. "NY Times.com: Chinese Roulette". nytimes.com. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/9385/Chinesisches-Roulette/overview. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  3. ^ Braad Thomsen , Fassbinder, p. 217
  4. ^ a b Watson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, p. 171
  5. ^ Katz, Love is colder than Death , p. 113

Bibliography

  • Braad Thomsen, Christian Fassbinder: Life and Work of a Provocative Genius , University of Minnesota Press, 2004, ISBN 0816643644
  • Katz, Robert, Love is colder than Death : The Life and Time of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Random House, 1987, ASIN: B000OP6C1M
  • Watson, Wallace Steadman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Film as Private and Public Art, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, ISBN 1570030790

External links


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