portion (okay, maybe most) of the film that’s in French, but don’t let that discourage you: The Story of Adele H is totally worth the subtitles.
I first saw this film in my early teens. I had seen a few other Truffaut films at the time – The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette, Jules and Jim. The major reason I fell in love with The Story of Adele H was because it was about unrequited love…and I was in THAT phase – you know the one – where tragedy and loss of love you just can’t help but romanticize. Well, that was me.
Directed by the renowned French filmmaker Francois Truffaut, it’s based on the true story of Adele Hugo, the daughter of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo. The film follows Adele, who’s in love with an officer, and adores him so much that she gives up her life in France and follows him to Canada. Some light stalking occurs really…well, more than light.
If you’ve never seen the madness that is The Story of Adele H, here are just a few reasons I love it:
The film is based on Adele Hugo’s diaries. In actuality, Adele was in her thirties when she went through everything. However, Truffaut decided to cast Isabelle Adjani who was just twenty. Still, whether it’s historically accurate or not, Adjani’s performance makes the film. She’s beautiful and vulnerable and relatable and heartbreaking. Also, she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance…which she totally deserved IMHO.
Bruce Robinson plays Lt. Pinson, the man Adele gives up everything for. He’s aloof and handsome…everything Pinson needs to be.
The very nuanced script was written by Truffaut and, of course, adapted from Adele’s journal. The script trails her delusions and complete descent into madness. It’s truly a heartbreaking film, partly because you know it’s based on a real person.
However, there is a truth in the film – we, as human beings, tend to pick a person and then put them on some imaginary pedestal whereby they are the only person we could possibly love. It almost doesn’t matter if they don’t like you back. They are secondary to the person we’ve imagined in our heads.
The film is about obsession. You can’t even blame Pinson completely. Think about it: If you were him, would you want to be with someone who was SO desperate to be with you? Although, I will say, Adjani is so beautiful that it stretches believability that anyone would refuse her. #OnlyInTheMovies
Some great lines too:
This may seem like somewhat of a repeat as I’m just going to sing Truffaut’s praises…again. But, directing is a different skill than writing, a different muscle. The film flows in a really interesting way. It’s quiet – it’s not an epic by any stretch of the imagination. However, his strength comes in eliciting Adjani’s strong performance. He once said of her, “She acts as though as her life depended on it” (Pop Matters Review).
Néstor Almendros shot Adele H and the results are stunning. There’s something about the colors. The film is dark and at the same time, almost pale, like Adele’s face at the end of the film, drained of color.
The Creation of the Time Period
Usually, I wouldn’t mention this, but when you look at the artistry that went into creating 19th century Nova Scotia, it really is awe inspiring. The detail of the costumes and the setting is incredible.
Director Martin Scorsese once spoke about the costuming for his film, The Age of Innocence, saying that he specifically made sure the costumes weren’t perfect. In period pieces, the people almost tend to look like statues, not a hair or a button out of place.
I believe Truffaut’s Adele H follows Scorsese’s rule. The time period is believable precisely because it is not perfect.
It’s Moody, Thought Provoking and Just Plain Fun
The film is moody. We are put so completely into Adele’s head that you almost feel like you are going mad yourself. Even though Adele lived in the 19th century and by all accounts, she was certifiably cray, she’s still intensely relatable – and not just if you’re a teenage girl in her romanticizing impossible love phase.
Most of the time, you just want to tell her, “Adele, he’s just not that into you.” But, alas, it’s hard to give advice to movie characters.
Vintage trailer below: