Proving that picnics and love are a natural combination, the plot of Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest hinges on a beach-picnic love affair. At first, it’s a recreational outing for Effi Briest, her husband, Geert von Innstettin, and a friend, Major von Crampas. But when Instettin leaves town on business, the picnicking episodes continue and the recreation becomes a cover for lust. Though they are discrete, long after the affair has end, Briest is found out. To be sure, it all ends badly, and Fontane makes it a long, long sad story.
Effi Briest has been adapted for film five times, most recently by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974) and Hermine Huntgeburth (2009). Of these, Fassbinder is more true to Fontane’s character and style of narration, slow and plodding. His characterization of Briest is respectful, and his screenplay understated and sexless, but seething with subdued passion.
Fassbinder is good at contrasting the social situation with the personalities. At the first picnic, Briest, Instettin, and Crampas are formal and stiff. They stroll and then sit stiffly on a beach cloth. Outwardly, Briest is a model of discretion; inwardly, she is seething with passion. Fassbinder shows her stuffed into Victorian couture that covers her figure and reveals only her face and hair. Food and drink at these picnics are inconsequential. Fontane does not mention any; Fassbinder provides a wicker basket and a proper picnic spread on a cloth.
Hermine Huntgeburth’s contemporary take on Briest is that she’s passionate and shows it. Huntgeburth’s Briest is willing to bear her breasts for a roll in the hay in an old barn—an episode that earned an 8th place in IMDB’s “Longest Bare-Breasts” feature films for 2009. Some picnic.
Featured image: Effi Briest (Hannah Schygulla) and Major von Crampas (Ulli Lommel) on the beach at the town of Kessin, a fictional town on the Baltic.
See: Theodor Fontane. Effi Briest (1896). Translated by Hugh Rorrison and Helen Chambers. New York: Penguin, 2001;Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Effi Briest (1975). Screenplay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder based on Theodor Fontane’s novel; Hermine Huntgeburth. Effie Briest ( 2009). Screenplay by Volker Einrauch based on Fontane’s novel (1896)
Bare breast Scenes in 2009, IMDB