Chinese Boxes

Institute History

  • 1985 Sundance Film Festival


Shot in 20 days on a shoestring budget, Chinese Boxes reveals a telling confidence and assuredness in Petit’s direction. Deliberately rough edged, it fits with relish into the tradition of Edgar G. Ulmer, Joseph Lewis and Samuel Fuller. (Chinese Boxes is also memorable in being the only film in which the director shoots the assistant director in the first five minutes.) This cold thriller features a Jamesian hero, an American innocent abroad, confronting European decadence. Through a series of mysterious killings March becomes trapped in a man’s world of junkies and murderers. Berlin provides the perfects setting. “Berlin is like a black hole. Anything, but anything can get in, but nothing can get out unless it’s okayed.” The logic of the film is a kind of dream logic which becomes increasingly interior, omitting the usual conventional narrative links. Chinese Boxes represents a refinement of the style of Flight To Berlin and is arguably Petit’s greatest achievement so far. It reveals a tenderness new to his work and his sense of hysteria culminating in a dance of death. The film is well served by Peter Harvey’s understated camera work and by Gunther Fischer’s chilling score. Another stunning discovery is the leading actor, Will Patton, who emerges as a compelling cross between Robert Duvall and James Dean.

— Lynda Myles

Screening Details

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