Rainer Werner Fassbinder's adaptation of a late 19th-century novel by Theodor Fontane is an austere period piece that may be the least characteristic of the German director's films. The titular heroine, played by Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla, is a 17-year-old girl forced into a loveless marriage with an old count. Living as the aristocrat's trophy wife, Effi endures her provincial existence unhappily. Her circumstances lead to a brief affair with a young lieutenant that attracts the attention of the townspeople, but not her unsuspecting husband's. Years later, however, the count discovers the love letters between his wife and her lover. As dictated by convention, he challenges the lieutenant to a duel and throws his wife out of their home. The shamed Effi is forced to live by herself, shunned by society and spurned by her family. Effi eventually returns to her unsympathetic parents, who reluctantly take in their disgraced daughter.
by Elbert Ventura synopsis