Everybody’s playing Werther in Paolo & Vittorio Taviani's film adaptation of this early Goethe novel, smooching at an unobtainable party while fully anticipating some predetermined tragic consequence. Isabelle Huppert & Jean-Hugues Anglade meet again after 20 years; quickly get married; then sabotage their newfound bliss by adding his architect pal (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) and her godchild (Marie Gillain) to their lives; making up a quartet at romantic cross-purposes. We can see where this is heading right from the start, and so do the players. Only those filmmaking Taviani brothers seem capable of surprise. A truly strange event unsettles the second act when husband & wife produce a love child who favors not them, but their guests. Then it’s back to swooning predestined fatalism. With three of the four leads dubbed into Italian, there’s an extra layer of distancing to fight thru, along with that slightly ‘off’ quality the Tavianis bring to the table, an artisanal quality with agogic editing rhythms all their own. (Note all the Tavianis listed in the credits.) It’s hardly a complete success, but loaded with strange, memorable things, like a little girl in red, screaming from afar as she runs thru a ripe field.
DOUBLE-BILL: The Taviani brothers never recaptured the Stateside audiences of PADRE PADRONE/’77 and NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS/’82. Even a well-received recent pic, CAESAR MUST DIE/’12, about prison inmates putting on Shakespeare, barely got released over here.