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ELECTIVE AFFINITIES(directors/writers: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani; cinematography: Giuseppe Lanci; editor: Roberto Perpignani; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Baroness Carlotta), Jean-Hugues Anglade (Baron Edouard), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Otto), Marie Gillian (Ottilie); Runtime: 98; Filmauro; 1996-Italy)
“If you can believe it, here’s a Goethe story that is insipid.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Here is another slow developing intellectual work from the Taviani brothers. It plays like an episode done for Masterpiece Theater. It is based on a novel by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. It tells the story of Baroness Carlotta (Huppert) and Baron Edouard (Anglade) and is set during the Napoleanic era. They once upon a time were passionately in love but have not seen each other in two decades. But they become reacquainted, decide to wed, and retire to an estate in Tuscany where they are joined by Otto (Bentivoglio), an architect friend of Edouard’s, and Ottilie (Gillian), Carlotta’s attractive goddaughter.

If you can believe it, here’s a Goethe story that is insipid. It is reduced to constant viewings of its sumptuous landscape and fails to take advantage of the metaphysical thought process Goethe is renown for. The emphasis is in how the idle rich fuss about with their notions of romance and upper-class manners, but does so in a somewhat disaffecting manner–concerned only with their place in society.

The title refers to the chemical attraction all things have to other things that are like them, comparing love to the battles that go on in nature; and, how it is possible for the lovers to be separated by inexplicable reasons, just like it happens in nature. After the treatise of Elective Affinities is read out loud to the four, we witness Edouard and Charlotte spending a night in lust and a child is conceived from this union. The child will oddly enough resemble both Ottilie and Otto, allowing us to believe that there must be some strange force at work to make all this happen.

The two couples are attracted to their opposites, but the strict laws of society forbids adulterous relationships. So the honorable and loyal friend of Edouard must yield from his love for Carlotta, and for Carlotta the same is true. And, Edouard and Ottlie must also have their love suffer the same consequences. The complications to this formal period piece, revolve around the strength and weaknesses of the characters involved. It is all elegantly acted out, but any power to the story is lost in the insignificance of their romantic problems. The once happily married couple still remain married just not quite as content as they once were, unable to raise their consciousness above the petty level of their societal obligations and take action to change their situation of living with the one they really love.

What a pity! They are all such swell folks and yet all that they have to show for their troubles is one conventional marriage, the death of a love child, and the altering of their serene foursome relationship forever.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”