Elective Affinities (1996)

 “This tragedy comes as deliverance.”

Elective Affinities is set in 19th Century Italy. Widow Carlotta (Isabelle Huppert) and Edouard (Jean-Hugues Anglade) meet again after a twenty-year separation. Their interrupted love affair immediately resumes, and they marry quickly. The blissful couple retreat to Edouard’s Tuscany villa, but when he announces that he’s invited his friend, architect, Ottone to stay, Carlotta is concerned that their solitude will be ruined. And it is ….

Ottone spends an evening explaining how elements “give up original bonds and reform”, and he even draws a little diagram to illustrate his subject. This is so heavy-handed that it comes as no surprise when Carlotta decides to invite her stepdaughter, Ottilia is join the fun in the country–and the idea is, naturally, that the four people will be affected by each other and form new relationships.

At this point, I thought I was perhaps about to watch some sort of film with a free-love message–you know–a sort of 19th Century Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice complete with bed hopping. I was wrong. The film degenerated into an overly-sentimental, queasy, self-righteous story with a heavy moral message. The guilty twist and suffer, and the morally correct characters are, well … insufferable.

It was a little unsettling to see Isabelle Huppert play the role of Carlotta–rather a cold fish, and it was especially un-nerving to see her close-up dubbed speeches. Otto’s character was wooden, and Edouard rather unbelievable–his eagerness at several points in the film was quite nauseating. The one ‘steamy’ scene was tepid at best–and again–extraordinarily heavy-handed.  From directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Elective Affinities is based on the Goethe novel.

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Filed under Isabelle Huppert, Italian, Period Piece

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