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Germany 1974
Directed by
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
140 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Effi Briest

Fassbinder observed that Effi Briest is a film that only works in German. That may well be the case but it certainly doesn’t work in English. Over-long, slow-moving, emotionally flat and so verbally dense as to require the non-German speaker to almost continually read its sub-titles, it’s a heavy slog despite its often beguiling black and white visuals from Jürgen Jürges and Dietrich Lohmann and Fassbinder’s typically striking mise-en-scène.

Effi Briest (Hanna Schygulla) is a naïve 17 year old who accepts the marriage proposal of Baron Geert Von Instetten (Wolfgang Schenck) an older man who was once her mother’s suitor. Whilst her motives are to advance her position in the world she finds his moral rectitude and social universe stifling and eventually succumbs to the advances of one of his associates, the dashing Major Crampas (Ulli Lommel) with disastrous results.

Based on a novel by Theodor Fontane, the story is typical enough of the 19th century taste for “fallen women” sagas and with its themes of social and moral stultification is grist to Fassbinder’s anti-bourgeois mill. As usual, however, the director’s stylistic self-indulgence makes no concession to the audience. Recalling Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964), he regularly has his characters spatially disengaged from each other (he also makes much use of mirrors to suggest their status as simulacra) and holds shots that illustrate their emotional and social disconnection beyond the point of narrative naturalism. No doubt those brought up within the same cultural context as Fassbinder will get more out of the film but for the rest Effi Briest will probably come across as an unduly protracted exercise in social criticism.

BTW: The complete title of the film is "Fontane Effi Briest oder viele, die eine Ahnung haben von ihren Möglichkeiten und ihren Bedürfnissen und trotzdem das herrschende System in ihrem Kopf akzeptieren durch ihre Taten und es somit festigen und durchaus bestätigen"

DVD Extras: Audio commentary by Dr Ken Moulden, Department of Germanic Studies, University of Sydney; Effi Briest an essay by Justin Vicari. Available as part of Madman’s excellent 3 disc release, Fassbinder On Melodrama, which also includes Martha and Fear Of Fear.

Available from: Madman




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