The Elective Affinities (1996) from Tuna

The Elective Affinities is an Italian art piece based on the Goethe novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften. While this is considered one of the genuine masterpieces of the 19th century, the film was clearly something less than that. I am unsure whom to blame for the following plot.

Complete Spoilers

A statue is rescued from the bottom of the sea during the opening credits. At a subsequent exhibition of the statue, a woman named Carlotta (Isabelle Huppert) sees former love Edoardo (Jean-Hugues Anglade) for the first time in twenty years . He proposes that very day, and they live happily at his Tuscany estate for a year. Then he decides to invite former school chum and unemployed architect Ottone (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) to live with them. Ottone and Carlotta are immediately attracted to one another, and that biological phenomenon is explained to the others and the audience using a chalk board as a visual aid, as if John Madden were outlining a tricky football play. Carlotta decides to invite her goddaughter Ottilia (Marie Gillain) to live there as well, thus balancing the equation. Everyone performs according to the play book outlined on the chalk board. Carlotta spends most of her time with Ottone, while her hubby devotes his time to Ottilia.

So far, nothing too strange. Carlotta and Edoardo reunite for a night of love, and she gets pregnant. Shortly thereafter, Ottone leaves, and Edoardo leaves for the army, wishing to die, since he can't have Ottilia. When the baby is born, it has Ottone's bright red hair, and a face like Ottilia, so much so that it even has a facial mole like hers. So, people were obviously playing musical beds, right? No. The script specifically emphasizes that Ottilia is still a virgin when Carlotta gives birth. The reason that the baby looks like Ottone and Ottilia is that Carlotta and Edoardo were fantasizing about them when the baby was conceived.

Edoardo is wounded in the military, but recovers with the help of Ottone, and they both return to the villa to see if they can again find happiness. Meanwhile, for some reason, everybody's fate is in the hands of Carlotta, who must agree to a divorce in order for everyone to be properly paired with their true love. She, of course, must refuse, else the film would end there. As the men return, Ottilia accidently drops the baby into a lake for only two seconds, but the baby drowns, whereupon Ottilia shows the dead baby her breast. This (the death, not the breast) somehow releases Carlotta to consent to the divorce, but now Ottilia doesn't want to play. It turns out that Carlotta and Edoardo do not divorce.

Ottilia then proposes to return to school, but when it is clear that the others won't let her go, agrees to stay if she can never speak and take all of her meals alone in her room. This is a subterfuge while allows her to commit suicide by starvation. Meanwhile, Edoardo has a heart attack and dies, so Edoardo and Ottilia are buried together.

End Spoilers

If I hadn't watched this, I would not believe it. I wasn't alone in my bewilderment. I was unable to find a positive critical review. There's nothing wrong with the acting, and the dubbing is good enough. My problem here is with the story, especially in the last third of the film. Goethe apparently believed that, much like the currently popular theory of Elective Affinities in physics, people do not choose whom they are attracted to. Applied in the context of this storyline, Goethe postulated that although we can't help being attracted to others, we can honor the commitment of marriage, and that failure to do so results in tragedy.

The only conclusion I drew from the film was that 19th century nobles were incredibly weird.

One reviewer claims that Goethe does not translate well into English, and that explains why the film doesn't work. I have not read the novel, and was not able to find a detailed plot outline of it on the net, but I must assume the film's storyline to be close to the novel. It is hard for me to believe that the English language is the problem here, because the film was made in Italy by mostly French actors and dubbed into Italian. I would sooner believe that either the filmmakers were not capable of making lucid and entertaining cinema out of the Goethe tale, or that the source material is considered great because of the writing, not the story.



  • No features except the original trailer
  • the transfer is not anamorphically enhanced, and is not especially vivid



Isabelle Huppert - breasts from the side in a very dark blue scene

Marie Gillain -  right nipple in the instant baby drowning scene.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a D+, a classy failure, but I don't know how much of that failure must be blamed on the original source material.

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