Twenty years ago Baron Edoardo (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Countess Caroltta (Isabelle Huppert) were madly in love. Now older and presumably wiser they accidentally meet at a local reception in a luxury Tuscan villa. Committed not to allow that fate takes the love of his life yet again Baron Edoardo promptly proposes to the Countess. A beautiful wedding is quickly arranged and what the two lovers could not have twenty years ago is now a reality.
For Carlotta and Eduardo life is full of joy and laughter. The lavish Tuscan estate where the newly-wed reside is a place where nothing is missing. To share his joy Baron Edoardo decides to invite Otto (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), an architect and a close friend. Upon arrival at the villa, however, Otto is greeted by the Countess with a tenuous concern as she seems unwilling to share the serenity of her new home. Shortly after, she invites her goddaughter Ottilie (Marie Gillain).
After a sweltering day at Baron Edoardo's estate Carlotta reads for the two couples a text exploring the "elective affinities"- a theory explaining the dependency between similar substances and their ability to create couples that naturally disband when a new element enters the equation. What ensues is a complicated story of shared romance, similar to the theory read by Carlotta, involving Baron Eduardo and Ottilie, and Countess Carlotta and Otto.
Based on Goethe's Elective Affinities this exceptionally poignant Italian-French film by the Taviani brothers is a beauty to behold. Naturally recreating the passion so typical for German Romanticism which Goethe exemplified during the 19th century Le Affinita Elettive in my opinion ranks between the Taviani's best alongside Kaos (1984), Padre padrone (1977), and Sotto il Segno dello Scorpione (1969).
The bulk of the narrative in Le Affinita Elettive presented an intriguing dilemma to Paolo and Vittorio Taviani as the actors' voices had to be dubbed in Italian (Jean-Hugues Anglade, Isabelle Huppert, and Marie Gillain all spoke their lines in French). This however did not prevent both the actors and the Taviani brothers from creating a very well-structured period piece. Furthermore, Le Affinita Elettive was filmed in two acts which were later on conveniently used when the film was shown on Italian TV networks.
Much of the storyline in Le Affinita Elettive is rather unusual when compared to other period works made at the time in France and Italy. The subject of infidelity as a premise for this film is a difficult one and as such there has been much criticism directed toward the Taviani brothers and the way they have chosen to adapt Goethe's work. It has been ten years since Le Affinita Elettive was made and to be honest I don't think that neither the story nor the acting could have been any more convincing.
A lot of the criticism that I have read about Le Affinita Elettive has been inspired by the fact that the actions of the main protagonists are often out of character for a period film. While there is some credibility in this claim I tend to believe that Goethe himself was often unpredictable with his characters and Le Affinita Elettive is a faithful adaptation of his novel. Quite frankly it is the actions of the main characters combined with the stunning cinematography that saves this film from being your typical and predictable period romantic story.
Le Affinita Elettive is also worth watching because of Isabelle Huppert—in my opinion the most consistent and innovative European actress nowadays. Huppert never seizes to impress me with her range of emotions and the Taviani's film is not an exception. Every little bit of joy, pain, or jealousy, is portrayed flawlessly by Huppert. While this is not a film where she could have unveiled her full potential her presence is nevertheless a compliment to an otherwise well-told story.
Le Affinita Elettive is a simple yet pleasant film to watch where the masterful brush of the Taviani brothers is used fabulously. With an array of unpredictable sequences involving a passionate quartet of lovers often incapable of controlling their own fate this is an engrossing story typical for the two brothers' late works.
How Does the Disc Look?
Wellspring have released Le Affinita Elettive in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 enhanced for widescreen TVs. While the print is generally acceptable there are numerous instances of film damage that are rather distracting. Colors often seem a bit dull and contrast especially during night scenes is lacking a bit. Occasionally I also noticed some minor flickering that indicates that the print used for this release could have benefited of restoration work. The film is presented with optional yellow English subtitles.
How Does the Disc Sound?
Wellspring offer the original Italian soundtrack in 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround. Nothing really that I could write home about as this is mostly an average presentation.
Unfortunately for fans of the Taviani brothers Le Affinita Elettive offers nothing in terms of extras to support an otherwise beautiful film. I think that this is a missed opportunity for Wellspring as the three films they released (Elective Affinities, St, Michael had a Rooster, and Night Sun) could have included some extensive extras investigating the Taviani brothers and their body of work. They deserve it. The only extras on this disc are a gallery of other Wellspring releases, Weblinks, and selected filmographies.
Unfortunately for American viewers it seems to me that Paolo and Vittorio Taviani never really received the recognition they rightfully deserve. In America their work is treated with a lack of respect and as a result very little is being done to have their films restored. With this said both Paolo and Vittorio are of considerable age and may not be for long that they are among us. What a missed opportunity to introduce adequately two of Italy's best to those that are yet to see their films. RECOMMENDED.