The damage done to 19th-century love affairs by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Nouvelle Heloise" is incalcuable. By dying of her love problems, its heroine, Julie, set the standard for a generation of romantics determined to let theirs be of no less consequence.

If not for the tipoff, early in Ettore Scola's "Passione d'Amore," that the heroine has borrowed a copy of Rousseau's book from the film's hero, "Passione" would seem like hysterical pulp. But in its proper historical- literary context, the movie -- which is made from a story begun by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti and finished by Salvatore Farina after Tarchetti's death in 1869 -- is an interesting variation on the theme of the Romantics.

In it, a young officer who's pouring his Romantic Soul into the conventional wild affair with a beautiful married lady becomes the reluctant object of a relentless passion by an ugly and bad-tempered woman who believes she can compel him to love her by the force of her own feeling, a passion literally fatal to herself. Indeed, the point is made that it's no accomplishment to love a responsive beauty, while the true essence of romance is to subjugate oneself to a humiliating passion for someone who despises one.

It's rather an odd theme for our time, which is more likely to espouse the theory that -- bodies being interchangeable -- heroism consists of refusing to tolerate flaws in one's partner and continuing the search for the perfect complement. But Scola gives the story of "Fosca" (the name of the ugly woman, played with full horror by Valeria d'Obici), a straightforward costume-drama treatment, with no real concessions to the fancies of later periods. Bernard Giraudeau is the hapless hero, Laura Antonelli his chosen lady, and Jean-Louis Trintignant a doctor who represents the ineffectual voice of reason in this romantic tempest.

PASSIONE d'AMORE -- At the K-B Janus.