“Eavesdroppers often hear the false truth.”
Wealthy businessman Gerhard Christ (Alexander Allerson) leaves his stiff emotionless wife, Ariane (Margit Carstensen) and sulky physically disabled daughter, Angela (Andrea Schober) for the weekend. Ostensibly, he’s traveling on business to Oslo, but in reality, he meets long-term mistress Irene Cartis (Anna Karina) at the airport, and together they drive to his country chateau for a dirty weekend. Meanwhile, his wife, Ariane, thinking her hubbie is safely off in Oslo, packs her bags and leaves for the chateau with her lover Kolbe (Ulli Lommel). When Angela catches on, and realizes that her father is lying about his whereabouts, she too heads for the chateau with her mute, serene governess, Traunitz (Macha Meril).
All the characters descend upon the chateau, destined for embarrassment and an ultimate showdown. Faithful–but unpleasant housekeeper Kast (Brigitte Mira) and her son–would-be author Gabriel (Volker Spengler)–maintain the chateau in the Christ family’s absence. Kast is a fascinating, repulsive character. Her face smacks disapproval of the Christs’ behaviour, but more than anything else, she loathes Angela. She’s not alone in this feeling. Angela’s mother loathes her daughter too, and Angela–not unaware of the total lack of maternal feeling, goads her mother constantly. It becomes apparent that the housekeeper has been aware for some time that both Mr. and Mrs. Christ have long-term lovers–and she’s juggled both adulterous couples separately at the chateau on weekends. So while each of the Christs have remained in ignorance about their spouse’s affair, Kast knew. Is she a faithful, close-mouthed retainer, or she is disloyal for keeping quiet? This paradox is just one of the puzzles in Chinese Roulette.
One of German director Werner Rainer Fassbinder’s favourite themes is the inherent exploitive nature of human relationships, and this theme is at work in Chinese Roulette–one of Fassbinder’s most stylized films. Obviously there’s a hierarchy of power in all the relationships–both of the Christs, for example, select extra-marital partners who are substantially socially and economically their ‘inferiors.’ The relationships between the characters are not connected by emotion–instead the relationships are glued together poorly by obligation, exploitation, or payment. The unloved and apparently unwanted Angela–who operates under the assumption that her parents’ adultery is connected to her disability–uses a game she calls Chinese Roulette to bring everyone together in what appears to be a socially acceptable setting, but in reality this nasty, spiteful game of truth reveals the underlying pathology in all their relationships. Fassbinder fans should enjoy this lesser-known title. In German with English subtitles.