Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 17th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: West Germany, 1975 (Fox and His Friends), West Germany / France, 1976 (Chinese Roulette)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Both Films)
Writers: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Hohoff (Fox and His Friends), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Chinese Roulette)
Cast: Peter Chatel, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Karlheinz Böhm, Adrian Hoven, Christiane Maybach, Harry Baer, Hans Zander, Kurt Raab (Fox and His Friends), Anna Karina, Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, Ulli Lommel, Alexander Allerson, Volker Spengler, Andrea Schober, Macha Méril (Chinese Roulette)
BluRay released: July 18th, 2016
Approximate running times: 123 Minutes (Fox and His Friends), 86 minutes (Chinese Roulette)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Fox and His Friends), 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Chinese Roulette)
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono German (Both Films)
Subtitles: English (Both Films)
BluRay Release: Arrow Academy
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Fox and His Friends and Chinese Roulette were both written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a prolific filmmaker who directed forty-four short features, T.V. miniseries and feature films over a sixteen-year span. Keys Collaborators on Fox and His Friends and Chinese Roulette include, composer Peer Rabin (Tenderness of the Wolves) and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas).
Fox and His Friends: A working class young man named Fox has his life turned upside when he wins a large sum of money. Along the way his new found wealth he slowly climbs up the social ladder. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and for far too long he had turned a blind eye to those who have been exploiting him. Will he emerge from this ultimate act of betrayal a stronger man or will this be the thing that finally pushes him over the edge?
At the heart of Fox and His Friends is a film that explores classism. Another subject matter that plays a significant role in the story at hand is homosexuality. And in regards to this latter subject matter the majority of the characters which appear in this film are homosexuals. And though having the main character and their lover as heterosexuals would have worked with the story at hand. The end result would have lost a significant amount of its impact by not having these roles homosexuals. Also pursuing this subject matter allowed Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a filmmaker who was very open about his own homosexuality an artistic canvas to explore subject matter that he is able to deeply connect with on personal level.
The film’s narrative structure is well constructed and straight forward in its delivery of information. At just over two hours there is a tremendous amount of ground covered in film, especially when it comes to the evolution of the Fox character. Also though there are many peaks and valleys along the way, pacing never is an issue. When it comes to the characters in this film they are well defined and their motivations are never left in doubt.
Visually outside of a few extraordinary moments, the film is more about capturing what is occurring and letting the characters’ actions and their words carry the bulk of the weight. With that being said, the moment that stands out more than any other moment in this film is the moment when Fox confronts his ex-lover at about a loan that he gave him. This is also the moment that signal’s the end of Fox’s naivety and from this moment on he continues down a much darker path then he had every traveled before.
Performance though the entire cast are very good in their respective roles. There is no performance that stands taller than Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the role of this film’s protagonist Fox. He delivers an utterly convincing performance that is filled with a tremendous amount of range and depth. Other performances of note include, Peter Chatel in the role of Fox’s lover Eugene and Christiane Maybach in the role Fox’s alcoholic sister. Also these characters are the two most important people in Fox’s life. Ultimately Fox and His Friends is an extraordinary melodrama where real life and art collide.
Though the film sets itself up about a melodrama about a broken marriage where both participants have lovers to fill the void not being fulfilled by their spouses. This is just the surface subject matter that gets the ball rolling and as the film progresses it digs deeper into more provocative subject matter.
As mentioned before though each spouse is aware of the others infidelity. It was more of an out of sight out of mind scenario until the daughter character decides to bring them all together. And though this does unsettle her parents and their lovers briefly. It is not until the moment when the daughter arrives that the tension is the room becomes so thick you could cut it with a knife!
Besides infidelity, another themed that plays a large role in the story at hand is guilt and most notably guilt from the parents towards whose own relation has been in decline since their daughter became ill. And speaking of the daughter she is far from an angel. In fact, it is her character that insists that the eight characters in this film play game called Chinese Roulette. They divided into four pairs and they use words instead of bullets as their way of inflicting cruelty.
And when it comes to the visuals this is yet another solid example of how to maximize the compositional frame. Also throughout the film there is a duality to many of the moments which occur and this further driven home by shooting objects through glass and using glass surfaces like mirrors for a similar affect.
Performance the entire are an great in their respective roles. With this film’s standout performance being Andrea Schober in the role of the disabled daughter with crutches. She does a remarkable job capturing the essence of her character whose cruelty knows no boundaries. Other performances of note include, Anna Karina (Bande à part) in the role of the mistress, Margit Carstensen (Possession) in the role of the mother and Macha Méril (Deep Red, Night Train Murders) in the role of Traunitz a mute who takes care of the daughter. Ultimately Chinese Roulette is a first rate psychological thriller.
Fox and His Friends and Chinese Roulette come on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. And both films are presented in 1080 progressive playback. Also both films have transfers that have been sourced from brand new 4K restorations of the films from original camera negatives. Both films are in excellent shape, details look crisp, grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
Each film comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in German and removable English subtitles have been included with this release. Both audio mixes sound, clean, clear and balanced throughout.
Extras for this release include, trailers for Fox and His Friends (3 minutes 24 seconds, in German with English subtitles) and Chinese Roulette (3 minutes 5 seconds, in German with English subtitles), an interview with actor Ulli Lommel (6 minutes 55 seconds, in English) and an audio commentary for the film Fox and His Friends with Hamish Ford.
Topics discussed in the interview with Ulli Lommel include, how he was living with Anna Karina and that is how she got involved in the film Chinese Roulette, this was the last film that he made with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the film was shot in three weeks, his thoughts about the performances in the film and his three key collaborations with Fassbinder.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, he reveals what the German titled is when translated into English, how Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a prolific filmmaker, the way Fassbinder uses space as a filmmaker, themes explored in this film, the portrayal of gay characters in his films and his thoughts on the film.
Overall another solid release from Arrow Academy.