Effi Briest (Fontane Effi Briest)

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


This was the first film Fassbinder ever wanted to make, and he once said, “Effi Briest is my dream film, and I decided to make it in black and white because they’re the most beautiful colors I know. It’s a film that I made exactly as I wished, with no other consideration.” Effi Briest also marks his first collaboration with actress Hanna Schygulla. The plot of the film runs parallel to Martha. A young woman is married off by her parents to a much older man. Her boredom and unhappiness push her into a brief relationship with another man. Years later her husband finds out about the affair, kills the man in a duel, and divorces Effi, separating and alienating her from her daughter. Effi returns home, but her will to live is broken.

The style of Effi Briest is self-consciously literary; Fassbinder wanted viewers to feel as if they were reading a book rather than seeing a film. In many scenes, the actors play their parts without speaking while Fassbinder narrates passages of Fontane’s text. Scenes are separated by intertitles and fade in and out from white instead of black, giving the illusion of turning the pages of a book. Fassbinder also used less sensitive film stock to give the images a period look. Effi Briest has been called the coolest and most artificial of all of Fassbinder’s films. It derives its intensity from the tension between the distance created by the way the story is told and the emotion underlying it.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Modern Renaissance Man
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: Germany
  • Run Time: 141 min.
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