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  Chinese Roulette Cruel To Be CruelBuy this film here.
Year: 1976
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Stars: Anna Karina, Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, Ulli Lommel, Alexander Allerson, Volker Spengler, Andrea Schober, Macha Méril
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Christ family live in well-to-do splendour in their German home, but there is heartache here should you try to seek it out, and it's all revolving around the daughter, Angela (Andrea Schober), who has a crippled leg and needs crutches to get around. Having been this way since her early childhood, the effect of growing up with a disability has made her bitter, but she is manipulative as well, biding her time until she can get the results she has wanted for a long while now. Angela is especially interested in making her parents, father Gerhard (Alexander Allerson) and mother Ariane (Margit Carstensen), suffer in exquisite ways, and now she has her chance as he claims to be away on a business trip this weekend...

But he isn't, he's off to see his mistress Irene Cartis (Anna Karina) at his sprawling country mansion which is a tad unfortunate as his missus is keen to visit there as well - with her lover, Kolbe (future director Ulli Lommel). When one couple walks in on the other in a full on kiss-up situation in a room of the house, they are shocked, but then that alarm turns to amusement, which might have you thinking fair enough, they had a sense of humour about an awkward development, but which writer and director Rainer Werner Fassbinder evidently considered beyond the pale. Is he siding with Angela? She should really be the victim in all this, yet the way she behaves renders her far more the aggressor.

She shows up by and by, much to Ariane's anger, revealing that perhaps things are not as well-mannered as the adults would like to think; indeed, nobody has a good word to say about the girl, with the housekeeper Mrs Kast (Brigitte Mira) hissing insults under her breath about her and everyone making it plain for us to see that Angela is an individual they would all rather be without. That this state of affairs, parents wishing their disadvantaged offspring had never been born, develops into a piece, more or less, that hinges on how beastly this lot can be to each other was a very Fassbinder plot, and he used the cinematography to focus on the characters' faces to have us attempt to divine their real feelings as the pressures of polite society are brought to bear on them.

Anna Karina was the biggest name in the cast, still an actress who thanks to her work with ex-husband Jean-Luc Godard can make many a hardy film buff go weak at the knees, here demonstrating she could be used by a director other than him to quite some effect, in this case as part of an ensemble. Her Irene is probably the most decent of the assembled, but even she is drawn into the titular game of hate by the last act, as is another actress who worked with Godard, Macha Méril who plays the one person sympathetic to Angela, her mute maid Traunitz. She is possibly the most captivating of the characters, since all we know about what she is thinking is that she is in the thrall of the girl and enables her to go through with her schemes, other than that she is an enigma.

Would that Angela had remained the same, as we soon understand she means to bring devastation to her detested family and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity - it's not friendly fire, either. This sense of people who are living in such close proximity to one another that the whole experience has driven them into a sick madness of obsessing over getting one up on the target of their ire contributed to the caustic mood, and the fact that was all orchestrated and aimed at a girl who really should have been taken care of with far more compassion than her embarrassed elders are capable of made for uncomfortable, yet at points blackly comic viewing. Was Angela the stand-in for the younger generation in seventies Germany who looked at the crimes of the Second World War and wanted their own part of making the older generation suffer? It was a common preoccupation with Fassbinder, and certainly fits this drama, but you could also regard it as taking satisfaction in going further in its viciousness than the director's beloved classic Hollywood often did. Music by Peer Raben.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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