Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Anna Karina, Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, Ulli Lommel, Alexander Allerson
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
An elegantly baroque exercise from the middle of his brief and brilliant career, Chinese Roulette finds Rainer Werner Fassbinder exploring the sinister side of a weekend in the country. At an isolated mansion, a husband an... more »
Hypnotically stylish, witty, but problematic Gothic thriller
J. Clark | metro New York City | 08/23/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Chinese Roulette (1976) is a hypnotically stylish, witty and puzzling Gothic thriller. Its several intertwined mysteries - some of plot, all of character - make it diabolically involving. Yet while its ambiguities are a strength, some nag more than they resonate. The DVD transfer is vivid.After focusing on films about individual characters in the previous three years (Effi Briest, Fox and His Friends, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven), Fassbinder here creates a striking ensemble piece. Although each actor gives a finely-etched performance (including Fassbinder regulars Margit Carstensen, Ulli Lommel, and Brigitte Mira; plus two actresses associated with his idol Jean-Luc Godard: Macha Meril and Anna Karina), the screenplay is another matter. Several of the characters' names seem heavily symbolic, with some kind of tension between names with a biblical resonance (Christ, Angela, Gabriel), and others with a Greco-Roman bent (Ariane/Ariadne gave Theseus the thread to find his way out of the minotaur's labyrinth), Irene in Greek means peace. The implications behind each of those names can be forced into a reading of the film as a whole: Gabriel "announcing" a new world order (in his loopy "philosophy"); Ariane, in the final moments, helping lead Gerhard out of a sexual "labyrinth," etc. But after three viewings, the film feels top-heavy with symbols, yet they never come together as clues to reading the film, either straightforwardly or ironically. And the film's final image of a ghostly throng (their banner looks vaguely Nazi) marching outside the Christs' chateau does not meaningfully help clarify, or complexify, anything. The screenplay feels half-baked, although in other films Fassbinder is usually dead-on in his writing - including his use of subtle layers of meaning.However there are several details to admire, including the sly way he plays with our expectations. Instead of some hand-wringing melodrama about infidelity, his four "adulterers" are remarkably sensitive to each other's foibles. And they are in committed, long-term infidelities (not a paradox in Fasbinder's world): Ariane and Kolbe have been together for seven years, Gerhard and Irene for eleven. And it was a stroke of twisted genius for Fassbinder to make sweet-faced, disabled little Angela, who loves to hug her dollies, the antagonist. Although we understand the possible motivation for her revenge on her parents, she is still a chilling creation. She also embodies one of Fassbinder's key themes in her manipulation of other people - either directly (her sadistic bossing of the sinister housekeeper), indirectly (her constant but unspoken provocation of her mother), or both (masterminding the climactic Chinese Roulette game).Although Angela's scheming helps keep the narrative moving, like the other characters she never gels either as metaphor (too murky) or as a person (too vaguely drawn). Of course in many other films, Fassbinder did create characters who are simultaneously symbolic and real, like Effi Briest, "Fox" Biberkopf, Mother Kusters, and dozens of others. Despite many fine, small moments, the problems of character in this film also affect the overall dramatic scheme.The dramatic problems reveal themselves clearly in the brief final act - the Chinese Roulette scene (reputedly one of Fassbinder's favorite pastimes). Although he masterfully builds up to the game, when it arrives the characters were not developed enough to give this climax its necessary force. I expected it to reveal something momentous not only about them but about the picture's themes. But it does not. And although there is plenty of psychosexual ambiguity, it feels more atmospheric than integral.Throughout, Fassbinder seemed to use his eight characters to create a microcosm - but of what? A critique of the upper crust and/or upwardly mobile; of materialism? A satire on the foibles of desire, romantic habit, matrimony (at the end Fassbinder prints the marriage vows over that final eerie long shot of the possibly-Nazi ghosts)? Or, more darkly, does this group represent the profound failures of self-understanding which lead to fascism (the recurrent Nazi motif)? This film needed more of the psychological and thematic fullness of, say, Renoir's Rules of the Game (1939) or Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which may have inspired it. (Fassbinder is a great filmmaker, who worked under tremendous strain: In 1976 he wrote and directed three feature films, plus staged a major production of Clare Boothe Luce's play The Women, even as he prepared to film it.)The film is much more successful in the mysteries it suggests through image, which resonate long after memories of the story fade. Some are hauntingly poetic: Angela's diabolical dolls, a shot of a forest reflected onto a window and all of that reflected yet again in a mirror, the decaying head of a stag in the forest, and several more. Those images feel like a gloss on the macabre nature of Gothicism itself (with its love of death, decay, and doppelgangers), as much as on the particulars of this film. Those fleeting images seem to have bubbled up from some dark recess of Fassbinder's fantastically rich imagination, and that instinctively he put them in where they felt right. They do not have a pat meaning, which you can easily put into words; they are genuinely, richly ambiguous.[3-1/2 stars rounded up to 4, because this film is worth seeing. Also, many Fassbinder fans consider this one of his greatest works.]"
Equally frustrating and interesting - 4.5 stars
Stalwart Kreinblaster | Xanadu | 12/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The great and one of a kind director Rainer Werner Fassbinder made several films.. many of which rank among the best films of the last century (I say this in full expectation of dissagreement).. And one of the peculiarities of his work is that it went through so many changes (almost like looking at the works of a painter like Picasso) and yet is marked by a certain stamp a certain integrity that will surely place him in a line of directors like Lang, Hitchcock, Sirk, and Godard - a line of directors who were uncompromising in their own way and who changed and challenged cinema in a way we can only admire in this day and age as we wait for the next predocessor.. (we have a few who approach this greatness today.. Lynch and Almodovar certainly come to mind)
With this introduction I think I am now prepared to tackle the rather problomatic yet highly relevant film Chinese Roulette...
Like a few other Fassbinder films it proves to be difficult and enigmatic in its form.. it also is one of Fassbinder's films that one wishes he could have spent a little more time on.. Fassbinder was a workaholic and was known for his fast pace direction.. he was known for making films in a mater of weeks and under the budget which was set for him... And while most of the film seems so well thought out and arranged and indeed ingenious - the final scenes betray the motion of the first 2/3 of the film.. The open ending was probably the quick solution to a difficult decision on how to close such a monster of an intelligent idea..
So I cannot dismiss the film because of its great moments - especially the enchanting camera work... and indeed it is one of his films which i often think about.. one which is unforgettable - and if that is the standard then yes it is a masterpiece.. and maybe my frustration at the ending is simply my own expectation and should be ignored.. puzzling and unrelenting...
A must see movie..
One cult movie and one of the top of Fassbinder!
Hiram Gomez Pardo | Valencia, Venezuela | 08/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film literally broke the walls once more . Since the multidimensional and enormous creativity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder was unextinguible in that glorious decade , plenty of extraordinary and innovative proposals.
Fassbinder explores the emotional universe of a smart girl who decides to make a surprise for her parents. They decided to divorce and actually have each one of them the respective lover . So the plan is very simple . She decides by herself to invite each one of them with the respective couple without knowing the fact the other will assist too to this weird invitation .
So can you imagine what can this clever fact origine in the surprise and the hidden feelings of both ex that forceful are very close of the boiling point of rage and hate?.
She has planned everything till the last detail . The dialogue is deeply disturbing , intriguing and challenging .
This imaginative and powerful script will lead us to a open ending which it will let opened the door to discuss with your beloved friends you invite to watch it .
One of the supreme and most awful films of the greatest german director of the Post War.
With the early death of that superb master (36) you will understand why Fassbinder told a friend who was requesting about his workholicism and the advise for him to rest (imagine what it meant to make thirty six films in just only seventeen years) this anticipated answer : I will sleep when I will be dead!"