Effi Briest is a film of velleity and distance because it is a portrait of the artist much more than the portrayal of a society. Whatever the apparent moral differences between them, all characters share a simultaneous acceptance of a perfectly coherent system of values, and a knowledge that this system cannot account for all their desires and emotions—even von Instetten who fights a duel because he must, not because he needs to, while openly avowing his love for his wife…. What Fassbinder has filmed is the author at work rather than the work itself: using a rigid pattern of sequences introduced by titles which are quotations from [the book's author, Theodor] Fontane and ending on fades to white whose ultimate effect is hypnotic rather than tedious; composing frames within the laws of classical perspective; shooting through gauzes and nets and in mirrors; choosing black-and-white rather than colour, and eschewing most of the technical repertory except the focus pull. And yet the film is beautiful to look at rather than psychologically compelling or politically significant…. [Fassbinder] is not self-indulgent, but if he continues to hover, without settling, between the 'realist' and the 'aesthetic' modes there is no reason why Effi Briest should not continually be reproduced without adjustment—except, perhaps, that this is no longer the turn of the century. (p. 46)
Jill Forbes, "Feature Films: 'Fontane Effi Briest' ('Effi Briest')," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1978), Vol. 45, No. 530, March, 1978, pp. 45-6.