“Chinese Roulette” takes as a point of departure seemingly normal for adults of all countries situation when parents assess and judge their children and their behavior during their childhood, and turns it all upside down. In CR it is the child – a precocious adolescent girl, Angela, who assesses and judges the ideas and behavior of her parents and the adult world in general. More, Angela “investigates” her parents’ internal world and, to complete the outrage, performs with them a sort of psychoanalytic session in a form of a quite cruel psychodrama – to give them couple of lessons about wisdom, courage, decency and their deeply prejudicial unconscious complexes and their psychotic compensations.

To help us to understand how Angela managed to become a pedagogue of her parents, Fassbinder unfolds before the viewers a symbolic plot depicting Angela’s predicament of being the reason for her parents’ disappointment in her for not-being the perfect child. This disappointment becomes the engine of a deep psychological trauma for both of her parents, to the point of pushing them to engage in irrational behavior. It is this behavior by which Angela’s mother and father – charming, successful, educated and sophisticated people try, unconsciously, to compensate themselves for having a crippled child, becomes the focus of Angela’s (and Fassbinder’s) intellectual adventure into understanding her parents’ emotional deficits and mental problem.

The manner of the acting in the film is as much characteristic of Fassbinder’s cinema as it is the opposite of Hollywood tradition of acting centered on mimic and intonational acting out (on delivery of emotions outside, under the very eyelashes of the viewers). In CR motivations of the characters don’t jump out of them like jinni from the bottle and must be interpreted by the viewers following the subtle cues. Characters’ emotions are like deep underwater currents characterizing the life of the soul of the personalities we see on the screen. Actors deliver performances not to tickle or scratch our perception (in order to produce cathartic emotional response) but to give us chance to understand the unconscious motivations of people involved in not easily resolvable conflicts described in the film.

Andrea Schober in the role of Angela Christ, opposing her mother and father’s worldview and behavior based on it, was able to act the emotional and spiritual alternative to the world of her parents, and meet the emotional power of Margit Carstensen playing her mother Ariane Christ.

This is symbolic close up of Angela’s mother (Margit Carstensen) – Fassbinder’s parody on Ariane’s suffering because of the fact of her daughter’s physical crippleness, suffering connected with her dreams about perfect child (motif responding to the behavior of Martha, the protagonist of American film “Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” – Mike Nichols, 1965)

Angela’s amazing precocious mind concentrating on her parents’ reaction on her illness, made her not only a talented amateur psychologist, but a spiritual pedagogue of her parents’ condition.

Angela’s psychodrama with her parents created the situation that forces them to make a choice between their destiny as a parental couple and their corresponding love affairs outside their family enclave. In this shot what looks like triumph of love over the ontological and spiritual failure to produce a perfect progeny, is, in reality, use of love as a compensation for this failure – the decision to stay together in spite of this failure, a very bonding by this failure.

It is a failure – the decision to stay together in failure – what returned Ariane Christ to her husband Gerhard (Alexander Allerson). It is not overcoming the illusion of greatness what motivated re-unification of father and mother, but confirmation of the ultimate value of orientation of greatness that makes even non-successful attempt of achieving it great like reflection of the sun in the puddle.

Irene Cartis (Fassbinder’s parody on Cartier jewelry) is not just lost, she feel avenged in her affair with Gerhard Christ after years of fake although genuine relationship with him. But her reaction is not just “amorous revenge” – it is a taste for truth on part of a thinking person played by Anna Karina.

In the moment of being infuriated Ariane played in killing of her daughter (she doesn’t have an intention to kill her, of course, but she cannot refrain from taking pleasure from this idea), but instead she wounds Angela’s teacher Traunitz (Macha Meril) – the person whose radical psychological help to the desperate crippled child made her the fighter for Angela’s dignity and against widespread human superstitious obsession with immanent megalomania (as unconscious it can be).

Posted Dec 25, 2011 –   Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Chinese Roulette” (1976) – Parental Perfectionist Expectations (Placed on Their Children) As a Target of Child’s Rebellion by Acting-Out Politics