Rainer Werner Fassbinder Penelope Gilliatt - Essay

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As with most of Fassbinder's films, [in "Effi Briest" the concern] is in the sophistry of the powerful; it is kin to his "Chinese Roulette," a mysterious comedy of calculated mannerisms. (p. 278)

Fassbinder thinks a great deal about oppressed groups, including women. "Effi Briest" is his masterpiece…. [His Effi] is the victim of an education that makes girls beguiling and frivolous objects, and so leads inevitably to a whim on the part of society to inhibit them with taboos. Effi is not only intimidated by the ghost but also fearful of committing crimes against bourgeois society, and terrorized by the possibility of appearing to the respectable to be a tart…. Life is lived by a system of fear and loneliness. God is not supposed to be a comfort, or society to provide companions. Effi is a naturally congenial and lively being, but Bismarck's Prussia blanches her spirit. Fassbinder's film has to do with the monstrous dictates of others about her life. (pp. 279-80)

"Effi Briest" is a vivid story of the dousing of a tonic personality by manners, misleading expectations, misled hopes. It is a fiercely philosophical picture…. This magnificent, inquiring film, though it is an epic in its way, is no spectacle; it is, above all, a spyglass on our consciousnesses. Effi Briest knows very well that she was a child and then a mother without ever being a woman. The bourgeoisie is sleepwalking, says the film, but its victims are only too alert. (p. 280)

Penelope Gilliatt, "Exile" (originally published as "A German Masterpiece," in The New Yorker, Vol. LIII, No. 19, June 27, 1977), in her Three-Quarter Face: Reports & Reflections (reprinted by permission of Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc.; copyright © 1980 by Penelope Gilliatt), Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980, pp. 235-82.∗