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Chinese Roulette
cast: Anna Karina, Brigitte Mira, Ulli Lommel, Margit Carstensen, and Alexander Allerson

writer and director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

82 minutes (15) 1976
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
In Rainer Fassbinder's world nothing is sacred. He was a man for whom grandiose ideas were commonplace, such as his declaration to win an Oscar whilst at the same time lambasting all that Hollywood stood for. His movies in turn are most famous for addressing the social affairs of the day, and in the lesser-known Chinese Roulette he tackles the sanctimony of marriage, the inevitable act of deception, alongside the excesses of the bourgeoisie.

Gerhard and Ariane are bourgeois. They are a married couple engaged in their own illicit affairs. Their crippled daughter Angela (Andrea Schober) contrives to send them both away on 'business trips' at the same time, to the same place, upon which their respective liaisons are exposed. Of course, after the initial embarrassment and with Gerhard and Ariane being bourgeois, this is cause for much mirth and guffawing - at least in Fassbinder's mind.

Angela, who is the innocent victim of an unhappy marriage, turns up at the weekend retreat and initiates a game of Chinese roulette. This is a game in which one group have got to guess what the other group is thinking. Such an innocent concept proves explosive when mixed with the concoction of jealousy, insecurity and angst being shown by the film's main protagonists.

Of course, there is much of that Fassbinder cinematic style throughout but the core of Chinese Roulette's style is the perpetually moving camera. This in many ways compliments the need to tell the truth in response to questions, showing the reactions and expressions of the cast at fragmented intervals and through some quite innovative frames and angles.

Chinese Roulette is melodramatic and highly entertaining, particularly as it moves into its third act - of course being a Fassbinder movie there is the usual gratuitous female nude scene, as well as scorn aplenty aimed at the middle-classes, covertly of course. None of the characters are likeable or engaging, yet they all prove to be fascinating in their own right to keep the viewer's attention rapt, if only to see them get their comeuppance.

Angela's admission that she would run a concentration camp elicits an amazingly dramatic response from her mother, an unequivocal reaction to the tension being wrought by Fassbinder's directorial trickery. Indeed, despite being a lesser-known film by the imperious German director, Chinese Roulette is a gem and one worth investigating for those curious about his work. It also has the added bonus of starring the enigmatic Anna Karina as the bedfellow to Gerhard.

This film is available as part of The R. W. Fassbinder collection 1973-1982 a two-part boxset of all Fassbinder's work.

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