Effi Briest (Hanna Schygulla) is a teenage bride of Baron Geert von Insteten (Wolfgang Schneck), a wealthy aristocrat. Her parents pushed the young and naive Effi into a marriage of connivance. The marriage is real dry and Effi feels alone and isolated by her relationship with Geert. Her only friend is the maid Roswitha (Ursula Straitz) who's warmth and kindness is makes her a loyal confident. One day, Gerrt's friend Major Crampas (Ulli Lommel) comes to visit and the two hit it off very nicely. Geert doesn't approve of his wife spending so much time with the Major. He begins to notice that they are too friendly with each other. Effi and Geert have a child, a daughter named Annie (Andrea Schober) who's the couple's pride and joy. One day, Roswitha looking for something in a sewing drawer accidentally discovers a bunch of old correspondences from the Major to Effi. Geert seizes the letters and discovers that his wife had an affair with him over seven years ago. Disturbed and feeling his honor has been tarnished, he confides in his pal Geheimrat (Karl-Heinz Bohm) about a potential duel and divorcing his wife.
Fassbinder's melodramatic costumed drama is loosely based upon the Theodor Fontane novel of the same name. Filmed in black and white, the movie is filled with beautiful photography, camerawork and lovely 19th century costumes. The acting is very efficient as well as the methodically slow paced direction. The themes from this film deal with lost faith, marriages of connivance, social staging and honor. People in this world are more concerned about their social status and honor then about family. When Effi falls from grace (due to her failed marriage and loss of parental custody of Annie) her parents initially refused to have anything to do with their daughter because it would look bad in their social circles and gossip would be too much to bear. But a letter from Effi's doctor and her near death cause them to reconsider. During her final days, Effi spends them trying to recapture her childhood and laments about her lost faith and her brief affair with the Major that caused so much grief.
A very good but slow moving film (that might turn off some viewers) that allows the viewers to take in the beautiful cinematography, direction and sets. Hanna Schygulla's portrayal of the spoiled and naive teen bride is a remarkable study in acting. She carries the film with much emotion making her down fall all the more tragic. A different film from Fassbinder that brilliantly captures life in the 19th century.