A Review of Cinema in 2017

Blogpost, Film reviews, Uncategorized

In an essay for Frames Cinema Journal, I once suggested that Sean Baker’s Tangerine (USA, 2015) was as important as, if not more important than, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs (UK/USA, 2015). My reasoning was that in its use of the iPhone to make a film about transsexual sex workers in Los Angeles, Tangerine did something more interesting both thematically and formally than Boyle’s fantastically smart biopic enshrining the Great Man behind Apple.

In a year that ends with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, USA, 2017) marching rapidly and in very little time towards being the highest grossing movie to be released in 2017 (with much of its gross yet to come in 2018), it would seem that in The Florida Project (USA, 2017), Sean Baker has again made a timely film that offers a critical corrective to the mainstream.

For, as Tangerine uses the iPhone to open up new vistas not offered by the conservative Steve Jobs, so does The Florida Project give us insight into America’s underside, as it tells the story of kids living in motels not far from Orlando, of course the home of Disney World.

Indeed, Baker’s film ends with a fantasy escape by two of its child protagonists (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince and Valeria Cotto) away from the police and care workers who will separate one of them from her mother and towards Disney World, which the kids approach as the film cuts to black and ends.

In this image, Baker surely acknowledges the power of Disney in offering escape from and perhaps solace for real world problems, such as negligent parents, poverty and so on. But Baker also reminds us that what we see in The Florida Project is the kind of reality that rarely features in Disney films… and even if it does, it is one from which escape is typically completed rather than left suspended in mid-flight, as here.

In this sense, The Florida Project challenges the approaching monopoly of Disney on the realm of audiovisual entertainment by reminding us that cinema need not be the colonisation of the imagination via escapism, but that it can find beauty in all manner of things, including six-year old kids spitting on a car, trashing an abandoned house and more.

Indeed, The Florida Project is regularly reminiscent of François Truffaut’s classic The 400 Blows (France, 1959), even if Baker’s protagonists are significantly younger than was Jean-Pierre Léaud when he starred in Truffaut’s French New Wave flagship. And as Truffaut breathed new life into cinema by showing the life of children and their refusal to conform to papa and papa’s old-fashioned cinema, so might Baker also breathe new life into cinema by showing the life of children and their refusal to buy into the fake plastic world of toys and the toyification of life.

My stupid Disney conspiracy theory
But if The Florida Project is going to achieve a rejuvenation of cinema, it certainly has its work cut out. For, if we look at the list below of the highest grossing movies of 2017, we see that half of them are Disney movies, with Universal managing two on the list, and then one apiece for Sony, United Entertainment and Warner Bros (with the Sony property, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jon Watts, USA, 2017, being a Marvel adaptation, meaning that this franchise might at some point return to Marvel Studios and thus to Disney, as happened recently with X-Men after the acquisition by Disney of Fox).

1 Beauty and the Beast Disney $1,263,521,126
2 The Fate of the Furious Universal $1,235,761,498
3 Star Wars: The Last Jedi Disney $1,056,389,228
4 Despicable Me 3 Universal $1,033,508,147
5 Spider-Man: Homecoming Sony Pictures $880,166,924
6 Wolf Warrior 2 United Entertainment $870,325,439
7 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Disney $863,732,512
8 Thor: Ragnarok $848,084,810
9 Wonder Woman Warner Bros. $821,847,012
10 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Disney $794,861,794

Now owning Fox, Marvel, the Star Wars universe, Pixar and of course its own back catalogue (Beauty and the Beast, Bill Condon, USA, 2017, is a remake of a 1991 animation), Disney’s stranglehold on contemporary cinema looks set to increase – not least because there can be endless spin-offs and spinouts and reboots and what have you of the Marvel and the Star Wars universes, exploring the everyday life of ewoks on Endor in a bid to get us watching only Disney and to Disneyfy the planet.

It is noteworthy that as per 2016, the highest grossing films are all sequels or remakes or part of a franchise and that basically all of them feature talking animals and/or flying humans. Some of these might have female, foreign and/or quasi-indie directors (Patty Jenkins, Taika Waititi, James Gunn, Rian Johnson), but they nonetheless all peddle fantasy, violence and escapism, as well as an emphasis on hyper-mobility and speed.

Soon after the invention of the lantern, writes Wolfgang Schivelbusch, light was weaponised, in the sense that it was used as a tool for policing behaviour, while also being used to blind enemies while the wielder of the light remains in darkness. In the era of the atomic bomb, the weaponisation of light becomes clear. And it becomes clearer still in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, when light speed is used to tear apart the destroyers of the Empire (or whatever it is now called).

Cinema also uses light in order to attract/distract attention, and thus in some senses is equally a mechanism of control and thus is put to military use. Some of the highest grossing movies gesture towards being politically progressive (postcolonial elements in Thor: Ragnarok and feminist elements in Wonder Woman), but one wonders that they reflect how cinema through its weaponised light is really the militarisation of all aspects of contemporary life, including political engagement (the militarisation of the postcolonial and woman, as opposed to militant postcolonialism and feminism).

But this mention of Wonder Woman allows me to get to my silly Disney conspiracy theory mentioned above. As Warner Bros owns the DC comic adaptations and as Disney owns Marvel, the studios are like the comic book publishers in competition with each other.

With the exception of Wonder Woman, though, all new Warner Bros films get critically panned, while all Disney films get praised to the heavens – perhaps especially the thoroughly mediocre Last Jedi. The opposition is made most clear when we look at how Captain America: Civil War (Anthony and Joe Russo, USA/Germany, 2016) was celebrated while Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, USA, 2016) was derided, even though the two are basically the same film (one superhero mistakes another superhero for his enemy, when in fact they could work better together). Justice League (Zack Snyder, USA/UK/Canada, 2017) also received a critical drubbing, even though this viewer thought that it distinctly bore the hallmarks of Joss Whedon, the film’s writer and who does no wrong when he is writing scripts for Disney (e.g. Whedon’s Avengers movies).

Dissing Warner Bros films and praising Disney films – even though to this viewer they are all as good/bad as each other – leads me to this thought: no one knows what a good film is – and it is debatable that the criticisms of the Warners films truly dents their commercial appeal, since even if they are not as high on the list as the Disney films, they still make good money. But the perception of what a good film is becomes as stage-managed as cinema itself.

In other words, I sometimes wonder that somewhere behind the scenes, Disney is simply employing bots to tweet negative reviews of Warner Bros films in order to diminish their standing, while tweeting rave reviews of Disney films in order to improve their rating. Faced with the pressure of having to conform with what the kidz on the internets are saying (even though these accounts are as real as the influential accounts set up by the Russians during the recent American elections), flesh world critics end up agreeing with these perceptions (Warners bad, Disney good) in order to continue to look like they know what people like and thus to attract a wider readership. And so what is really going on is a hidden battle for ratings that in turn may or may not help takings played out across the digital media landscape.

I wish just to emphasise that this is a dumb conspiracy theory and not true. But part of me would not be too surprised if parts of it were true. It is cheap and easy to set up fake accounts and also easy to gain good reviews by paying off genuine online influencers. We know that the practice of buying good reviews has been long-standing in print journalism (just look at the Metro newspaper in London, and you will often see a three-star blockbuster given a full-page spread as Film of the Week, while a four-star documentary gets maybe half a paragraph on the next page – even though by definition the four-star film should be Film of the Week over the three-star film). So it would even be surprising if this did not happen to some extent in the twittersphere.

Performances of 2017
Having mentioned Wonder Woman, I might also suggest that Una mujer fantástica/A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio, Chile/Germany/Spain/USA, 2017) was paradoxically a much more empowered film, even if it is a film about a transexual, and thus someone whom certain people might claim is not therefore a ‘real’ woman. (Although given that she is immortal and that her body achieves blows that far surpass her shape and bone structure, I would find any claims that Wonder Woman as played by Gal Gadot is a ‘real woman’ highly curious, too.) In the year of Weinstein and so on, I would not want to suggest that it is a man (Lelio) who has made a more progressively feminist film than a woman (Jenkins). But since the films bear similar titles, it becomes hard not to compare them, and Una mujer fantástica is much more in alignment with my personal sensibilities than Wonder Woman – although I was sad to miss and hope soon to catch Mrs Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson, USA, 2017), which may well be the best of the three.

In starring Rebecca Hall, Mrs Marston and the Wonder Women reminds me of her turn in Christine (Antonio Campos, UK/USA, 2016), which I saw in 2017, and which likely remains an easy winner for the best performance that I saw in a film this year. Daniela Vega’s performance in Una mujer fantástica follows.

And then other standout performances would for me include the afore-mentioned Brooklynn Kimberly Prince in The Florida Project, Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea (who in a fraction of the time made me want to watch the film about her character and not Casey Affleck’s character), Mahershala Ali in Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, USA, 2016), Pyotr Skvortsov in The Student (Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia, 2016), Ruth Negga in Loving (Jeff Nichols, UK/USA, 2016), Sonia Braga in Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil/France, 2016), Ethymis Papadimitriou in Suntan (Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Greece/Germany, 2016), Ellie Kendrick in The Levelling (Hope Dickson Leach, UK, 2016), Jack Lowden in England is Mine (Mark Gill, UK, 2017), Nuno Lopes in São Jorge (Marco Martins, Portugal/France, 2016), Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK/Ireland/USA, 2017) and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France/Brazil/USA, 2017).

I want also to say how much I enjoyed specifically seeing Ewen Bremner return and evolve the character of Spud in the otherwise somewhat mediocre T2: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, UK, 2017), while I continue to harbour soft spots for Keanu Reeves (in John Wick 2, Chad Stahelski, USA/Hong Kong, 2017), Dwayne Johnson (in Baywatch, Seth Gordon, UK/China/USA, 2017) and Tom Cruise (in American Made, Doug Liman, USA, 2017).

Finally, what with Assassin’s Creed (Justin Kurzel, USA/France/UK/Hong Kong/Taiwan/Malta, 2017), The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson, UK/USA/Sweden, 2017), Song to Song (Terrence Malick, USA, 2017) and, to a lesser extent, Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, USA/UK, 2017), it would appear that Michael Fassbender continues to choose complete codswallop. Were it not for his remarkable turn in the equally remarkable Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith, UK, 2016), I’d be worried about chalking Fassbender up as a lost cause. (Trespass Against Us also featured good turns from the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson, while Barry Keoghan also got about between this film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan, UK/Netherlands/France/USA, 2017.)

Movie watching in 2017
Listed at the bottom of this blog are 387 films that I saw in 2017. The absolute vast majority of these are films that I saw for the first time.

That said, while normally I do not list the relatively significant number of films that I watch not for the first time, be that because of teaching or research (the total likely would be around 450 if these were included), a couple are listed below – and for slightly different reasons (maybe because I gave a talk about a specific film and so seeing it was tied to a specific event, which is the case with Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese, USA, 1990; or maybe because I went to the cinema to watch the film before realising that I had seen it before, which is the case with All This Panic, Jenny Gage, USA, 2016; or maybe because I am still not sure whether I have seen the film before or not, which is the case for The Patience Stone (Atiq Rahimi, Afghanistan/France/Germany/UK, 2012), which seemed familiar throughout, but I just cannot remember when I first saw it if indeed I had seen it before).

Typically I do not include short films on my end of year list, but I have in fact begun to list short films quite regularly, especially when they are work by ‘artist filmmakers’ and whose œuvre gets showcased on MUBI (e.g. Jay Rosenblatt).

Anyway, of these 387 films, I saw 183 at the cinema, with a further 150 online – mainly on MUBI, although I was beginning for my sins to watch an increasing number of films on Amazon’s rental and buying service. I had rented but did not quite find time to see a few films that I really wanted to watch in 2017, but which I shall now have to watch in 2018, including Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, USA, 2017) and I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, UK/France/Germany, 2017).

In addition to these two main sources of film viewing, I saw 34 films on DVD, 18 on an aeroplane and two on television, while I also include on the list Homecoming, Richard Mosse’s video installation at the Barbican, both because much of it was quite remarkable audiovisual work, and because it really is worth seeing if you have not and get the chance.

Clearly, therefore, I have not seen all of the films released in 2017, and thus am not in a particularly strong position of authority to make pronouncements about the best films of the year, etc.

Nonetheless, I shall describe below a few more of my experiences before highlighting the five films that really stood out for me this year, as well as some thoughts on end of year film lists in general.

Particularly pleasurable this year was to see various of the films by Philippine slow cinema auteur Lav Diaz. Thanks to a series of screenings up at the University of Westminster’s campus in Harrow, combined with a season of his films on MUBI, I was able to sit through some c40 hours of Diaz’s work – leaving me I think with a tick against every feature film that he has made.

Following his death in 2016, it was also a great pleasure to be able to see various films by the late Julio García Espinosa at Birkbeck, University of London, where Professor Michael Chanan curated a retrospective of JGE’s work, including the brilliant Son o no son (Cuba, 1980).

MUBI also offered introductions to various other filmmakers whose work I am glad to have come to know, including Sergei Loznitsa, Pia Marais and Oliver Laxe. MUBI also provided an entry into a whole slew of films by El Pampero Cine, a group of filmmakers including Mariano Llinás, Alejo Moguillansky, Verónica Llinás and Laura Citarella, who make very intelligent work out in the Argentine countryside.

A remarkable film that I saw on MUBI, but which would not be in my films of the year because it is too old is Até ver a luz/After the Night (Basil da Cunha, Switzerland, 2013), which together with the above-mentioned São Jorge shows real depth to contemporary Portuguese cinema, beyond the likes of Miguel Gomes, Pedro Costa and João Pedro Rodrigues.

MUBI also allowed me to further my knowledge of the work of Raoul Ruiz (four films), while YouTube provided me with an opportunity to see four films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (and which I really should have seen beforehand). Furthermore, the double bill of Pere Portabella’s Informe general sobre unas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública (Spain, 1977) and Informe general II: el nou rapte d’Europa/General Report II: The New Abduction of Europe (Spain, 2015) also felt very timely as a result of Brexit and the recent unrest in Catalonia.

With regard to online film viewing, I am also glad to have encountered the work of Fabrizio Federico, whose Pregnant (UK, 2015) is one of the most remarkable punk and experimental films that I have seen.

The year also started very well with regard to experimental cinema, as in the same week I saw 55 Years on the Infinite Plain by Tony Conrad at Tate Modern, before then also seeing La région centrale (Michael Snow, Canada, 1971) at the Serpentine Gallery. I also got to see some audiovisual work live by Phill Niblock at Tate Modern also relatively early on in 2017.

Before I go on to discuss the films that I thought were strong, I was in particular sad to miss a couple of films, especially Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (Sophie Fiennes, Ireland/UK, 2017) and God’s Own Country (Francis Lee, UK, 2017), which I suspect would have joined The Levelling, Trespass Against Us and England is Mine as strong British movies of 2017, with three of these notably taking place outside of the cities and instead in the countryside. I also wanted very much to watch Bar Bahar/In Between (Maysaloun Hamoud, Israel/France, 2016).

Films of the Year
So, in addition to various of the films mentioned above (perhaps especially The Florida ProjectUna mujer fantásticaThe Levelling, Moonlight and Aquarius), I’d add these films as pretty good and thus as proxime accessunt to a relatively arbitrary bar, but the measure of which is a film that makes me rethink my understanding of something, including life, the universe and cinema itself.

These films include: Get Out (Jordan Peele, Japan/USA, 2017), Neruda (Pablo Larraín, Chile/Argentina/France/Spain/USA, 2016), Grave/Raw (Julia Ducournau, France/Belgium/Italy, 2016), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2016), Twentieth Century Women (Mike Mills, USA, 2016), Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, USA, 2016), The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer, USA, 2015), Prevenge (Alice Lowe, UK, 2016), Homo sapiens (Niklaus Geyrhalter, Switzerland/Germany/Austria, 2016), Miss Sloane (John Madden, France/USA, 2016), Kedi (Ceyda Torun, Turkey/USA, 2016), City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman, USA, 2017), Step (Amanda Lipitz, USA, 2017), A Ghost Story (David Lowery, USA, 2017), Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh, USA, 2017), Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler, USA, 2017), Patti Cake$ (Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017) and El auge humano/The Human Surge (Eduardo Williams, Argentina/Brazil/Portugal, 2016).

The latter of these films came closest to being on the list of five below.

That said, the list below is not five because of any reason other than that these films really did kind of ‘blow me away,’ in the sense mentioned above of making me rethink the world/life/the universe. I personally don’t see the point of naming 10 films or 20 or any number for the sake of it. To do so is arbitrary and it leads to adding in and ruling out movies for very imprecise reasons – albeit that these can have real effects (with regard to my own filmmaking, the number of screenings that my films get relates very directly to the number of mentions that they have in various different media; getting a friend even to Tweet or mention one of my films in a blog seems like the biggest task in the world, in that rarely will anyone do me that favour [perhaps because they think that my films are rubbish]; that said, where normally I list my own films in my annual round-up, since technically I have seen them… this year I have not, though I could mention The Benefit of Doubt, UK, 2017, Circle/Line, UK, 2017, Sculptures of London, UK, 2017, and #randomaccessmemory, UK, 2017, all of which I completed this year).

Thinking about end of year lists also makes me think that 1 January is a weird date to start the year. That is, from a UK perspective, why start it 10 days after a solstice and seven days after a major religious festival (Christmas)? Why not start the year on the solstice, such that the year aligns with the sun? (But, then, whose solstice? But, then again, why this solstice?)

Either way, the entire thing seems irrational and so to mark an irrational transition with a list seems… irrational, even if organisationally sensible, I guess.

What also seems irrational is that any year will be better or worse than another.

But finally I’d just like to say that if my list is of films that really opened my mind, then in some senses that list runs the risk of only getting smaller as I get older, experience more and come across fewer novel approaches to the world… This does not necessarily follow (why is there not just an endless stream of new visions from different people and people who become different by virtue of themselves changing?), but it is a risk.

What I want to suggest, though, is that when one sees a film and says ‘yeah, that’s fine,’ but someone else sees that film and goes ‘wow, that blew me away,’ then one simultaneously wonders what they have or have not experienced and one wonders what one must have missed in order for them to find that film so good that you only found fine.

The same can happen with end of year lists, then, but on a grander scale, as one wonders how many films other people must have seen and/or how closely they or I watched the ones that did or did not make it on to their lists such that they get or got named there.

When the lists themselves become predictable (like the selection of films at Cannes, for example), then the films on the list – as well as lists more generally – can looked tired, formulaic, uninspired and uninspiring.

These five films, though, really did inspire me in my thinking, and so I include them not for the purposes of choosing films that are more obscure than thou, but to see if they also can inspire other people – who might otherwise look at me and ask what it is that I have experienced to like these films most from 2017.

This… together with a sense of increasingly liking only films that try to break cinema as I find cinema technologically, industrially, aesthetically and institutionally a problematic medium, and which at times therefore I think should be disbanded…

Here goes:-

Island (Steven Eastwood, UK, 2017)
An incredible documentary about people dying at a hospital on the Isle of Wight. Philosophically very profound.

La región salvaje/The Untamed (Amat Escalante, Mexico/Denmark/France/Germany/Norway/Switzerland, 2016)
A brilliant study of life on Earth and perversion.

Félicité (Alain Gomis, France/Belgium/Senegal/Germany/Lebanon, 2017)
Gomis basically has no fear of making a raw film about life in contemporary Kinshasa.

Work in Progress (Adam Sekuler, USA, 2017)
Had I seen Homo sapiens before this, the two might have swapped places – but this one got there first, even though they are in various respects similar. Nonetheless a brilliant and contemplative documentary that looks at the role of work in the contemporary world.

Good Time (Josh and Ben Safdie, USA, 2017)
The film I feel most uneasy about including because others have included it widely on their lists. I am late to the Safdies (this was my first film by them), but this has much to commend it, including two great performances from Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie.

As I look at all of these films, I am ashamed at the eurocentrism of my tastes, and in particular by the lack of films from Asia that I have seen/included this year.

But there we go. Hopefully I can do better in 2018.

‘Full’ List of Films Seen in 2017

 

Key:-
Film Title (Director’s Name)

No marker – seen in cinema
* = seen online (specifically streaming)
^ = seen on DVD or file
+ = seen on aeroplane
” = seen on television
> = seen in a gallery

When see you the entry surrounded by parentheses – as follows: (Film Title (Director’s Name)) – it means that I had already seen the film, or at least I think I may well have seen the film before.

Silence (Martin Scorsese)
A Letter to Elia (Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones)
Hud (Martin Ritt)*
Médecin de Campagne (Thomas Lilti)
Duelle (Jacques Rivette)^
55 Years on the Infinite Plain (Tony Conrad)
La région centrale (Michael Snow)
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
(Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese))
La femme du boulanger (Marcel Pagnol)
Railroad Tigers (Ding Sheng)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari)
Elegy to a Visitor from the Revolution (Lav Diaz)*
The Train Stop (Sergei Loznitsa)*
Assassin’s Creed (Justin Kurzel)
A Monster Calls (J.A. Bayona)
Le fils de Joseph (Eugène Green)*
Work In Progress (Adam Sekuler)*
America America (Elia Kazan)
The Big Country (William Wyler)
The Settlement (Sergei Loznitsa)*
Jackie (Pablo Larraín)
Lion (Garth Davis)
Split (M Night Shyamalan)
The Nights of Zayandeh-rood (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood)*
10+4 (Mania Akbari)
Cairo Station (Youssef Chahine)^
Christine (Antonio Campos)
Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
Triple Agent (Eric Rohmer)*
Victoria (Justine Triet)
T2: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
Buddies in India (Wang Baoqiang)
Chinese Roulette (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)*
Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson)
Zero Day (Alex Gibney)*
Loving (Jeff Nichols)
Marguérite et Julien (Valérie Donzelli)*
Baraka (Ron Fricke)
Samsara (Ron Fricke)
(Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade))
Twentieth Century Women (Mike Mills)
(Heremakono (Abderrahmane Sissako)^)
Moka (Frédéric Mermoud)*
Portrait (Sergei Loznitsa)*
Death in the Land of Encantos (Lav Diaz)
Factory (Sergei Loznitsa)*
Zootropolis (Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush)^
Ten Meter Tower (Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson)*
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee)
Prevenge (Alice Lowe)
Tiya’s Dream (Abderrahmane Sissako)*
Lovetrue (Alma Har’el)
Fences (Denzel Washington)
Batang West Side (Lav Diaz)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (Lav Diaz)
Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore (Khavn de la Cruz)^
An Investigation on the Night that Won’t Forget (Lav Diaz)*
The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou)
Patriots Day (Peter Berg)
Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)
Blockade (Sergei Loznitsa)*
Logan (James Mangold)
Bunny Lake is Missing (Otto Preminger)*
Letter (Sergei Loznitsa)*
The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)
Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith)
Thumbsucker (Mike Mills)*
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer)*
Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
Le parc (Damien Manivel)*
Rostov-Luanda (Abderrahmane Sissako)^
(La vie sur terre (Abderrahmane Sissako)^)
The Student (Kirill Serebrennikov)
Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Le jeu (Abderrahmane Sissako)*
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton)*
Le roi de l’évasion (Alain Guiraudie)*
Microbe et Gasoil (Michel Gondry)*
The Love Witch (Anna Biller)*
Domitilla (Zeb Ejiro)*
Sexto aniversario (Julio García Espinosa)^
Dancer (Steven Cantor)
Viceroy’s House (Gurinder Chadha)
Aventuras de Juan Quinquin (Julio García Espinosa)
Son o no son (Julia García Espinosa)
In memoriam (Paul Leduc)
Les aventures d’Arsène Lupin (Jacques Becker)
La región salvaje (Amat Escalante)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
(All This Panic (Jenny Gage))
My Old Lady (Israel Horowitz)*
100 Mile Radius (Environment III) (Phill Niblock)
T H I R (aka Ten Hundred Inch Radii) (Environments IV) (Phill Niblock)
The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee-Woon)
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Life (Daniel Espinosa)
The Lost City of Z (James Grey)
Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders)
Filmfarsi (Ehsan Khoshbakht)
Lettre de Beyrouth (Jocelyne Saab)
Beyrouth, jamais plus (Jocelyne Saab)
Beyrouth, ma ville (Jocelyne Saab)
Free Fire (Ben Wheatley)
Viva (Anna Biller)*
Demain on déménage (Chantal Akerman)*
Grave (Julia Ducournau)
For Ellen (So Yong Kim)*
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
The Merchant of Four Seasons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)*
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
Florentina Hubaldo CTE (Lav Diaz)*
Neruda (Pablo Larraín)
The Sense of an Ending (Ritesh Batra)
Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks)*
incoming (Richard Mosse)>
The Trip to Spain (Michael Winterbottom)”
Los colores de la montaña (Carlos César Arbeláez)
Los cuerpos dóciles (Diego Gachassin and Matías Scarvaci)
El futuro perfecto (Nele Wohlatz)
Na sua companhia (Marcelo Caetano)*
Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen)
The Transfiguration (Michael O’Shea)
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig)
Clash (Mohamed Diab)
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (James Gunn)
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)
Suntan (Argyris Papadimitropoulos)
Effi Briest (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)*
Young Love Lost (Xiang Guoqiang)
Mr Donkey (Liu Lu and Zhou Shen)
Nights and Weekends (Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg)*
Pleasure Love (Huang Yao)
Félicité (Alain Gomis)
The Road to Mandalay (Midi Z)
Re:Orientations (Richard Fung)
Fox and His Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)*
Mindhorn (Sean Foley)
The Promise (Terry George)
Honor and Glory (Godfrey Ho)*
Homo Sapiens (Nikolaus Geyrhalter)
Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise (Mark Cousins)*
Harmonium (Koji Fukada)
The Levelling (Hope Dickson Leach)
Frantz (François Ozon)
(Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky))
The Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair)+
City of Tiny Lights (Pete Travis)+
Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott)
Maman(s) (Maïmouna Ducouré)+
Dear Zindagi (Gauri Shinde)+
Homme au bain (Christophe Honoré)*
Baywatch (Seth Gordon)
The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki)
The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit)
Miss Sloane (John Madden)
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)
A Century of Birthing (Lav Diaz)*
Les hautes solitudes (Philippe Garrel)*
Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut)^
The Mummy (Alex Kurtzman)
Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski)
The Road Movie (Dimitrii Kalashnikov)
Island (Steven Eastwood)
El rey tuerto (Marc Crehuet)
Plato’s Phaedrus (dn rodowick)
Kedi (Ceyda Torun)
Les gouffres (Antoine Barriaud)*
Song to Song (Terrence Malick)
A Man Called Ove (Hannes Holm)
The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
Edith Walks (Andrew Kötting)*
Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman)
I Am Not Madame Bovary (Feng Xiaogang)
Una mujer fantástica (Sebastián Lelio)
Détour (Michel Gondry)*
Today (Reza Mirkarimi)
Portrait of Madame Yuki (Kenji Mizoguchi)
Kóblic (Sebastián Borensztein)
Voyage of Time (Terrence Malick)
Inversion (Behnam Behzadi)
Visages Villages (Agnès Varda & JR)
Anarchy in the UK (Jett Hollywood)*
Transformers: The Last Knight (Michael Bay)
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)
War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson)
England is Mine (Mark Gill)
Pregnant (Fabrizio Federico)*
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)^
The ABCs of Death (Various directors)^
Atomic Blonde (David Leitch)
Step (Amanda Lipitz)
Maudie (Aisling Walsh)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)
Eldorado XXI (Salomé Lamas)*
The Italian (Andrei Kravchuk)^
Whisky (Pablo Stoll and Juan Pablo Rebella)^
From Greece (Peter Nestler)*
Arunoday (Partho Sen-Gupta)+
Crosscurrent (Chao Yang)+
Gbomo Gbomo Express (Walter ‘Waltbanger’ Taylaur)+
Vers Mathilde (Claire Denis)*
Rhine River (Peter Nestler)*
Death and Devil (Peter Nestler)*
The Event (Sergei Loznitsa)*
The Ferry (Attia Amin)+
Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan)+
Night Train to Lisbon (Bille August)+
Sisterhood (Tracy Choi)+
Nieve negra (Martín Hodara)+
Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh)
Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow)
Dilwale (Rohit Shetty)+
The Young Karl Marx (Raoul Peck)+
Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn)+
The LEGO Batman Movie (Christian McKay)+
Balnearios (Mariano Llinás)*
Away With Me (Oliver Mason)*
Souvenirs d’un montreur de seins (Bertrand Mandico)*
Historias extraordinarias (Mariano Llinás)*
La impresión de una guerra (Camilo Restrepo)*
Underground Fragrance (Song Pengfei)*
Kontra Madiaga (Khavn de la Cruz)*
It (Andy Muschietti)
American Made (Doug Liman)
El auge del humano (Eduardo Williams)*
Description d’un combat (Chris Marker)*
Castro (Alejo Moguillansky)*
Vive la baleine (Mario Ruspoli and Chris Marker)*
Y a-t-il une vierge encore vivante? (Bertrand Mandico)*
El loro y el cisne (Alejo Moguillansky)*
Maelström (Denis Villeneuve)^
Dev.D (Anurag Kashyap)^
El escarabajo de oro (Alejo Moguillansky and Fia-Stina Sandlund)*
The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Patrick Hughes)
Volta à Terra (João Pedro Plácido)*
Soul Food Stories (Tonislav Hristov)
A Run for Money (Reha Erdem)*
Ostende (Laura Citarella)*
La mujer de los perros (Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás)*
Notre Dame des Hormones (Bertrand Mandico)*
Miséricorde (Fulvio Bernasconi)*
Stronger (David Gordon Green)
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Matthew Vaughn)
Yenish Sounds (Karoline Arn and Martina Rieder)*
Juana a los 12 (Martín Shanly)*
Damiana Kryygi (Alejandro Fernández Mouján)*
Depressive Cop (Bertrand Mandico)*
A Respectable Family (Massoud Bakshi)*
Regeneration (Raoul Walsh)*
Europe, She Loves (Jan Gassmann)*
La León (Santiago Otheguy)*
Flatliners (Niels Arden Oplev)
Pueblo en vilo (Patricio Guzmán)*
Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears)
La ville des pirates (Raúl Ruiz)*
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (Peter Landesman)
Risk (Laura Poitras)^
Le bonheur (Agnès Varda)*
Point de fuite (Raúl Ruiz)*
The Foreigner (Martin Campbell)
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)
Agua fría de mar (Paz Fábrega)*
Blade Runner Black Out 2022 (Shinichiro Watanabe)*
Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn (Luke Scott)*
Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere to Run (Luke Scott)*
The Law in these Parts (Ra’anan Alexandrowicz)^
Scialla! (Francesco Bruni)
Santouri – The Music Man (Dariush Mehrjui)^
Project X (Henrik Moltke and Laura Poitras)*
Le concours (Claire Simon)*
You Are All Captains (Oliver Laxe)*
Napolislam (Ernesto Pagano)
The State I Am In (Christian Petzold)*
Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman)
The Man Who Left His Will on Film (Nagisa Oshima)^
The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson)
Blessed Benefit (Mahmoud Al Massad)
Porcile (Pier Paolo Pasolini)^
Paraísos artificiales (Yulene Olaizola)*
The Great Wall (Tadhg O’Sullivan)*
A Simple Event (Sohrab Shahid-Saless)*
Trois vies et une seule mort (Raúl Ruiz)*
The Traveler (Abbas Kiarostami)^
mother! (Darren Aronofsky)
Human Flow (Ai Weiwei)
Geostorm (Dean Devlin)
Eva no duerme (Pablo Agüero)*
Naissance des pieuvres (Céline Sciamma)*
Ce jour-là (Raúl Ruiz)*
Into a Dream (Sion Sono)*
Burn! (Gillo Pontecorvo)^
N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir (Xavier Beauvois)*
El vendedor de orquídeas (Lorenzo Vigas)*
Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (Bahman Farmanara)^
El mar (Agustí Villaronga)*
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)
La sirga (William Vega)*
Only the Brave (Joseph Kosinski)
Suburbicon (George Clooney)
Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi)
Impolex (Alex Ross Perry)*
Spring (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead)*
Kapò (Gillo Pontecorvo)^
No sucumbió la eternidad (Daniela Rea Gómez)*
At Ellen’s Age (Pia Marais)*
When Monaliza Smiled (Fadi Haddad)
Layla Fourie (Pia Marais)*
Informe general sobre unas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública (Pere Portabella)*
General Report II: The New Abduction of Europe (Pere Portabella)*
Villegas (Gonzalo Tobal)*
Tem Gringo No Morro (Marjorie Niele and Bruno Graziano)*
The Void (Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski)*
Mafioso (Alberto Lattuada)
The Pornographers (Shohei Imamura)^
The Dresser (Peter Yates)*
White Ant (Chu Hsien-che)*
Restricted (Jay Rosenblatt)*
Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh)
Justice League (Zack Snyder)
The Living Corpse (Khwaja Sarfaraz)^
Até ver a luz (Basil da Cunha)*
Las horas muertas (Aarón Fernández)*
Bye Bye Brazil (Carlos Diegues)^
Sérail (Eduardo De Gregorio)*
Worm (Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi)*
Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani)^
São Jorge (Marco Martins)*
Okja (Joon-ho Bong)*
Sight (Eran May-Raz and Daniel Lazo)*
Waves ’98 (Ely Dagher)*
La pesca (Pablo Alvarez-Mesa and Fernando López Escriva)*
Camp de Thiaroye (Ousmane Sembène and Thierno Faty Sow)^
Cidade Cinza (Guilherme Valiengo and Marcelo Mesquita)*
The Conspiracy (Christopher MacBride)*
Wonder (Stephen Chbosky)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
The Mountain Between Us (Hany Abu-Assad)
A Viagem de Yoani (Pepe Siffredi and Raphael Bottino)*
Good Time (Josh and Ben Safdie)
[The Silence (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)^]
Xenos (Mahdi Fleifel)
A Man Returned (Mahdi Fleifel)
A Drowning Man (Mahdi Fleifel)
La cuerda floja (Nuria Ibáñez)*
Sharp Tools (Nujoom Al-Ghanem)
Mary Shelley (Haifaa al-Mansour)
Under Electric Clouds (Aleksei German Jr)*
L’illusion comique (Mathieu Amalric)*
Into the Arms of Strangers (Mark Jonathan Harris)*
Sofía y el terco (Andrés Burgos)*
Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Jacques Rivette)^
Beats of the Antonov (hajooj kuka)*
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson)
Nine Lives (The Eternal Moment of Now) (Jay Rosenblatt)*
[The Patience Stone (Atiq Rahimi)*?]
Prayer (Jay Rosenblatt)*
Coco (Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina)
I Used to be a Filmmaker (Jay Rosenblatt)*
Comet (Sam Esmail)^
Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry)*
Hanna (Joe Wright)*
Uncle Kent 2 (Todd Rohal)*
The Twilight (Mohammad Rasoulof)^
The Killing of a Sacred Dear (Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Sheik and I (Caveh Zahedi)*
Patti Cake$ (Geremy Jasper)+
The Other Land (Ali Idrees)+
Whitney: Can I Be Me (Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal)*
Assistance mortelle (Raoul Peck)*
Heaven Knows What (Josh and Ben Safdie)*
Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell)^
John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski)”
The Disaster Artist (James Franco)
Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)
Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
Happy End (Michael Haneke)
White Christmas (Michael Curtiz)

Philosophical Screens: Chinesisches Roulette/Chinese Roulette (West Germany/France, 1976)

Blogpost, German Cinema, Philosophical Screens, Uncategorized

This blog is a written version of some of the things that I shall be discussing tonight (Wednesday 10 May 2017) at the British Film Institute in London, where there is a screening and panel commentary on Chinese Roulette as part of the BFI’s Philosophical Screens series, organised in association with the London Graduate School.

The film tells the story of the Christ family, which consists of Gerhard (Alexander Allerson), Ariane (Margit Carstensen) and their crippled daughter Angela (Andrea Schobel). Both Gerhard and Angela are having affairs and one weekend Gerhard claims to be going to Oslo and Ariane claims to be going to Milan on business, but instead both go with their lovers to the Christ mansion in the countryside.

As a result, when Gerhard comes back from a roll in the woods with his French lover Irene (Anna Karina), he walks in on Ariane in the arms of his colleague, Kolbe (Ulli Lommel). But they are not alone, for Angela then turns up with her mute Polish nanny, Traunitz (Macha Méril), implying that their daughter has engineered this confluence of partners and has come to observe the fallout.

What is more, events are also observed by the mansion’s housekeeper, Kast (Brigitte Mira), who has a mysterious connection with the family, and her son Gabriel (Volker Spengler), who fancies himself as something of a philosopher-poet.

What is set in action, then, is a lean eight-header, in which various tensions are unravelled and revealed in the mansion, which, together with the objects that fill it, plays a key role in the film, which culminates in a  game of the eponymous Chinese Roulette. This is a guessing game in which one group asks questions to another group in order to discover which person from the first group the members of the second group are describing.

***Spoilers***

The game culminates in an act of violence – as Angela, Gerhard, Traunitz and Gabriel describes Ariane in various ways, including as a worm-eaten apple (if this person were a painting, what would feature in it?), a gilded mirror (what object would this person take to a desert island?), a whore (is this person a saint, a mother or a whore?), already dead (what might be an appropriate death for this person?), and the commandant of Bergen-Belsen (what role would this person have played in the Third Reich?).

Although Kast believes that they must be describing her, as do Irene, Kolbe and Ariane, when it is revealed by Angela that they are in fact describing her own mother, she flies into a fit of rage, takes out a gun from beneath a transparent chess set and aims it at her daughter… before shooting Traunitz.

All good melodramatic stuff!

But what makes Fassbinder’s film all the more interesting is not just what happens in it (which ultimately is not that much given the minimal settings and the restricted cast), but how it is put together.

For although Chinese Roulette only merits a few brief mentions in Thomas Elsaesser’s Fassbinder’s Germany: History, Identity, Subject, and while Christian Braad Thomsen seems positively to dislike the film, it is nonetheless a remarkable masterclass in mise-en-scène and cinematography, with the film being shot by Michael Ballhaus, also the director of photophraphy for Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (USA, 1990), which was discussed at Philosophical Screens earlier in the year.

(This is not to mention the strength of the acting in Chinese Roulette, which is superb.)

For, although somewhat spartan, the Christ mansion is filled with relatively elegant objects, including a prominent transparent drinks cabinet, which is matched by a second transparent cabinet that contains a high fidelity music system. These accompany the afore-mentioned transparent chessboard in which sits the gun used to shoot Traunitz.

Time and again, these objects take up space in the frame, the camera placing them prominently before us, together with a birdcage in which budgies tweet and flutter. While we are supposed to and in some senses can see through these objects (they are transparent), in some senses they also get in the way, mirroring, distorting, fragmenting the bodies that we see and the actions they perform.

That is, while transparent, they in fact also change our perspective on things, suggesting that any perspective, therefore, is skewed, inaccurate and not necessarily correct. That this takes place in a film lends to Chinese Roulette a self-consciousness that elevates it out of the realm of a typical fiction film, in which events are presented to us as if in an accurate, objective and reliable fashion, but instead a film in which it becomes hard to read what exactly is going on.

There are several things for us to pick apart, since these dimensions of the film relate to larger ideas concerning family, class, history, fascism and cinema itself.

For, if in Fassbinder’s mise-en-scène we get a sense of how all views are potentially distorted, then we also get a sense of how quite possibly we can never therefore access the truth. And yet, in a country that is going through the kind of self-analysis that Germany was doing in the aftermath of the Second World War, the need to get to the truth, the need for transparency is it were, is tantamount – such that is becomes a guiding myth for an entire nation.

The myth might be that in confronting its fascist past, Germany can perhaps move beyond it, becoming so open in its dealings that fascism will never be allowed to rear its ugly head. In some senses, this explains the Christs’ compulsion to ask about the role of the chosen person in the Third Reich: they must acknowledge that they, too, are capable of fascism.

And yet, when confronted by this fascism, Ariane (in this instance) cannot tolerate it, and  she is compelled to let out her violent tendencies somewhere – in this instance on Traunitz.

For all of the desire to remove fascism via transparency, it creeps into everyday life in invisible ways. ‘Fascist,’ says Kast as another road user cuts her up as she drives home to the mansion near the start of the film.

Even in our cars, then, we have a sense of the human who separates themselves from the rest of the world, and thus begins to treat others not as fellow humans with whom one makes contact, but rather as people to use and abuse. That is, the seeds are sewn of seeing other humans as disposable, of the sort that we might thrown into a gas chamber.

If fascism is thus invisible, we might say that fascism is beyond the purview of cinema, that cinema cannot gain access to the inner recesses and the darkness that lurks within all human hearts. And yet, I am not sure that this is quite right – and we can explore this by returning to the transparent cabinets.

For, if the transparent cabinets in some senses get in the way and obscure the reality or truth of what it is that we see in Chinese Roulette, in order senses, those cabinets do not get in the way, but they are the way, with the distortions and reflections that they create not taking us away from a true vision of things, but being the true vision of things.

That is, distortion is the truth (that there is no truth). But more than this, a cinema that claims to offer us an undistorted or transparent image of the world such that we can begin to understand something like the Holocaust does not so much get beyond or allow us to recognise fascism, but it is fascism. In its supposedly objective presentation of the world, cinema is fascist as it reinforces the necessary separation of humans from the world and from each other that objectivity would by necessity require (to be objective, we have to be detached from the world).

If a would-be objective cinema is thus fascistic, then how do we get around this? Fassbinder does this precisely through his distortions, which thus become not so much distortions as a kind of Brechtian verfremdungseffekt that makes us aware that we are seeing not an objective truth, but precisely a constructed fiction.

I shall return to Fassbinder’s cinematography imminently. But here I want to discuss how it is not just cinema that typically separates humans from each other, but perhaps even the concept of family itself – even if family is of course supposed to unite people. For, while families are units, that they are units who seclude themselves off in larger or smaller domestic spaces – i.e. houses – shows how they separate themselves off from the world and then from each other.

On numerous occasions in Fassbinder’s film do we see chandeliers and various other objects (including the feet of a doll whom Angela seems at one point to have hung) jut down into the bottom of the frame. Not only do these render strange the images that we see, in that rather than being rectangular, the frame can take on different, indescribable shapes as these objects are visible only as darkness, but they also suggest the oppression that hems the Christs and their guests in.

This we can compare to Gerhard’s brief moment of happiness in the woods with Irene: he has escaped from the family hearth, but it will be back in the home and with is family that the fascism will recommence.

In other words, the characters of Chinese Roulette clearly want connection – otherwise they would not have lovers and so on. But they find such connection almost impossible to achieve, and the house bears in on them, constricting them to the point where they lash out in violence. Family, then, provides connection of a kind, but it is not enough, so constrained, for the characters to feel free.

Take the opening shots: we see Ariane in one window before we see Angela in another. The two seem to be in the same room as Gustav Mahler’s Uns Bleibt Ein Eidenrest plays on Angela’s record player. And yet it is revealed that in fact they are in separate rooms. Both clearly seek the freedom of the outside – hence being at the window; but they in fact are separate both from the outside and from each other – perhaps even wilfully.

But there is more than just a family in Chinese Roulette; there is also Kast and her son and Irene and Kolbe, after all. And yet there seems little connection even between these extended cast members. Separated by objects, seeing each other in reflections, rarely looking each other in the eye: the characters are together, but they cannot connect either, as is made clear when Kolbe, fully clothed, begins to strangle a topless Ariane in bed (although she curiously wears a hairnet), and by the class division that seems to separate Kast and son from the Christs and daughter. Various forms of separation, then, are all at play, suggesting an impossibility of freedom.

With its depictions of bodies, especially heads, in space, gazing off in different directions, Fassbinder’s film is very painterly, with the stasis of the characters here also suggesting in some senses their failure to connect (since they cannot move in order subsequently to connect).

Here Ballhaus’ roaming camera comes into its own. For, if the characters do not move so much, then Ballhaus’ camera roams freely. And if an objective cinema is fascistic, then the remarkable camera movements that Ballhaus has the camera perform may depict a world where people do not connect, but which endeavours and perhaps succeeds in creating a film with which we do connect.

It is important here, then, that these camera movements seem unmotivated – in order to remind us that we are seeing a film, rather than watching but not noticing these camera movements because they are integrated into a clear and objectively presented narrative.

In this way, we understand that if cinema is fascist, then this is because capital is also fascist. For the cinema of supposed objectivity, in which we should not be reminded that we are watching a film, but in which we should instead simply forget about the real world for a couple of hours, is also the cinema of making money, a cinema for profit rather than a cinema of art. If profit and thus capital are achieved through supposed objectivity and separation from the world, and if fascism is also predicated upon a perceived separation of self from world and others (such that one can treat those others as objects rather than as people), then capital is also fascistic, and the capitalist cinema a key tool in promoting this fascistic ideology.

Elsaesser describes how Chinese Roulette can best be understood by the title of an essay that Fassbinder wrote on Claude Chabrol. In ‘Insects in a Glass Case,’ the director criticises Chabrol for simply looking at but not really getting involved with his characters, with the result being that his work is superficial (much as Fassbinder otherwise likes the work). Compared to an objective view, then, Fassbinder shows how the case (the transparent cabinets, the house, the cars) shape the behaviour of the insects/his characters, while also not being afraid to have his camera move freely inside the case rather than simply observe from beyond.

And yet, if the characters pose as if in paintings, static and separate, perhaps it is because they want this. They want separation and they perhaps even want the humiliation of knowing that they want separation and can do little to overcome the tendency towards it. This is why the Christs laugh upon discovering each other’s affairs, as well perhaps as in how they supposedly started those affairs when it was revealed that Angela was a cripple: faced with an imperfection, they simply adopt an illusion in order to turn away from that imperfection.

And yet this imperfection only marks the imperfections, the fascisms, that lie within and which are embedded via a history of war and exploitation that extends far further back in time that World War Two.

The Christs are clearly wealthy and international jet setters: they travel for work, have a house in Munich, the mansion in the countryside and a place in the mountains (that Gerhard mentions at one point). As much is also made clear by the names of their business acquaintances, whom we also hear about as the film progresses. Gressmann, Farucci, Petrovich, Ali Ben Basset: this is an international lifestyle that they have.

But how did the Christs get here? For it is never quite clear how they make their money, although at one point Gerhard speaks with Kast about the murder of Ben Basset – seemingly a reference to Mehdi Ben Barka, the Moroccan freedom fighter who disappeared in Paris in 1965. ‘We are the only two left,’ he says to Kast, as if they were now the only dissidents remaining.

But what kind of dissident owns at least three houses, one of them a mansion? What would the Christs’ interest be in something like Moroccan independence?

Conceivably the answer might come in the form of Traunitz. Towards the end of the film, when Ariane has shot her daughter, Kast calls for an ambulance, telling it to come not to the Christ mansion but to the Traunitz mansion.

At the start of the film, Angela turns to Traunitz and says ‘your great-grandfather should have won the Battle of Katowice.’ It is unclear to which battle Angela is referring, while it is also unclear where exactly the mansion is – but one gets a sense that the Christs have acquired the mansion from the Traunitzes, much as Katowice historically was occupied by the Germans and then liberated by the Polish.

What is more, Macha Méril, who plays Traunitz, was born and died in Morocco, meaning that her mute subservience as Traunitz to the Christs obliquely speaks also of a history of North African colonialism and exploitation, which in turn suggests a world of capital in which the rich are empowered through exploitation, an act of separation from the exploited that the capitalist does consciously and for which they must therefore atone through occasional bouts of self-humiliation and abjection – the search for connection when they know that this will be fruitless because they cannot let go of their sense of superiority towards others as a result of their capitalist separation from them that is the necessary precondition for hierarchies.

It is fittingly cruel, then, that it is Traunitz who should pay for Angela’s insult to Ariane – since it reaffirms Traunitz’s role as a voiceless victim to this history of exploitation – even if the film’s closing gunshot over a frozen image of the exterior of the mansion suggests another act of violence, perhaps Ariane now shooting Angela or shooting herself.

Fassbinder opens the essay on Chabrol with a quotation from Theodor Fontane, whose novel Effi Briest Fassbinder later famously adapted (West Germany, 1974).

‘Every debt must be paid on this earth, even that of showing shadows or half-shadows as human beings,’ the quotation reads (although I do not know its source).

Fassbinder would seem to suggest, then, that the debt owed by exploiters to the exploited may one day have to be repaid – perhaps here with the blood of Ariane, who cannot in the end tolerate the prison that she has made for herself in separating herself from the world.

More than this, in discussing the presentation of shadows as human beings, Fontane also predicts cinema as a debt – the fascistic tendencies of cinema that must also at some point be paid back. In his self-conscious cinema, Fassbinder would seem to foretell a cinema that does pay back this debt, or which at the very least shows us not shadows as human beings, but shadows as shadows. More: it is not that the shadow is separate from the human being such that one can be presented as and taken for the other. Rather, the shadow is perhaps always with the human, entangled and touching each other, much as the human is not separate from the world and from other humans, but inevitably also entangled and touching, even if we deny it and even if we deny denying it in such a way that our separation becomes unbearable, leading from repression to abject release and self-humiliation.