Rainer Werner Fassbinder Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Effi Briest] is beautiful. It renders [Theodor Fontane's] book as fully and texturally as could be possible in 140 minutes, and it's a work in and of itself, intrinsically cinematic. What's more, it shows that Fassbinder is probably going to keep astonishing us….

Effi Briest doesn't have the tragic dimensions of Madame Bovary or of Kate Chopin's The Awakening because Effi is much more a victim than a rebel, but her extramarital affair is fated from the start and so is her sorry finish….

The fadeouts all through the picture constitute a visual theme. Every fade is to white, not black—a "burn to white," as the trade more properly puts it. These fadeouts convey a feeling of the age's worship of purity…. (p. 20)

Throughout the film the register of emotion is cool. Feelings are perfectly credible, but always portrayed rather than meant to move us. Perhaps Fassbinder wanted to "contain" the story, to keep it from seeming too purply; and/or it may have been to convey, as with the dying duellist, a sense of acceptance, of actors-in-life playing the roles to which fate and society have assigned them. (pp. 20-1)

And Fassbinder's handling of the actors' movements, his compositions, support this tone. Although he never strains realism, we realize more and more clearly that the realism is being delicately abstracted….

So far there is no definable Fassbinder directorial style in the films I've seen. On the other hand I can think of no other director who could have made two such good films as Jail Bait and Effi Briest in two such disparate styles. Unsympathetically, one can call him eclectic. For me, he shows prodigious range. (p. 21)

Stanley Kauffmann, "'Effi Briest'" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1977 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 176, No. 26, June 25, 1977. pp. 20-1.