FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1975) & CHINESE ROULETTE (1976)

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In 1982, Rainer Werner Fassbinder died of a drug overdose at the age of 37, bringing the most prolific years of his career to a sad and permanent end.  A life-long self-destructive streak didn’t impede his work ethic, and by the time of his death he had made some 40 features, and been an actor, writer and director (amongst numerous other roles) in film, television, and radio. Much of his work from 1970s is considered his finest, and during this time Fassbinder seemingly thrived on creating controversy, using his films to challenge viewers on issues of societal roles and expectations, gender, personal hypocrisy and the exploitation of people by institutions and by each other. These two films are prime examples of that approach.

Despite the title of the first movie in this set, Fox (played with great sympathy by Fassbinder himself) certainly has no friends, with the story a savage indictment of the willingness of people to destroy others for their own gain. A down-on-his-luck hustler, Fox believes every week will be the one he finally wins the lottery. And then he does.  When this gets him entry into a group of wealthy, ambitious men, so begins their manipulation and exploitation of him. It’s an interesting, complex film which presents, without comment or judgement, a group of men who are gay where it is not the focus of the film nor a reason for their behaviour, but rather incidental. At over 2 hours in length, like Effi Briest, it’s another leisurely film, but one that uses its time well to explore the sad, inevitable tragedy playing out on screen.

The next film comes from a time when Fassbinder was beginning to gain recognition outside of Germany. Chinese Roulette tells of a young disabled girl, Angela, who uses a weekend away to reveal the hypocrisy of her parents, the course of which will expose their sins against each other (and as Angela believes, her too) even as they try and maintain the pretence their lives have become. The selfishness of the adults, their ability to self-delude and to think only of themselves is brought to the fore. It’s a heavy, dark film with little in the way of sympathetic characters to invest in, but that’s not a problem when the central story is so engrossing.

Both films are well made, compelling pieces. In particular, Fox and His Friends as it demonstrates with clarity the theme of how people exploit those weaker or less worldly than them and how those being exploited often accede to it without protest, a two-way complicity that only perpetuates the status quo. Good as these bleak films are, however, there’s no getting around that both are very much acquired tastes, even if you’re familiar with cinema of the 70s. In fact that goes for Fassbinder as a whole, but if you’re curious about trying his work these are probably two of the most accessible ways to start. Just don’t expect a chipper night’s viewing.

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1975) & CHINESE ROULETTE (1976) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR& SCREENPLAY: RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER / STARRING: RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER, PETER CHATTEL, KARLHEINZ BÖHM, ANNA KARINA, MARGIT CARSTENSEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 


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