The Story of Adele H
- Isabelle Adjani as Adele Hugo
- Bruce Robinson as Lieutenant Albert Pinson
A haunting film from François Truffaut that delves into madness and obsession, The Story of Adele H takes its basis from the true story of Victor Hugo’s second daughter and how her unrequited love for a man led to her undoing.
The year is 1863 and beautiful Adele Hugo, daughter of the famous author Victor, travels to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is going under an assumed name for reasons we are not aware of yet and finds shelter in a boarding house. She seems like a charming and composed young woman, yet something about her seems a little off. This becomes especially noticeable in the way her stories of why she is in Halifax change with each person she meets, though the one detail that remains the same is the mention of Yet once she meets Pinson again, it becomes exceedingly clear that the dashing but philandering man doesn’t share romantic feelings for her anymore and that their brief relationship meant nothing. He is concerned about what this will do to his image if Adele is constantly pursuing him and asks her to leave. The stubborn Adele refuses to do so and takes it upon herself to do whatever it takes to get close to him again. In the meantime she also regrets to her room at a boarding house where she spends hours writing letters of lies to her family about the non-existent relationship and pouring her heart into diaries about her delusional love( that seems perfectly rational in her mind). As her obsession progresses, she becomes more extreme and desperate in her actions, sinking into deep delusion and insanity. All of this eventually leads to Adele’s downfall where she is left as an empty shell thanks to engulfing madness and a love that is so intense that it destroys her.
There is something very poetic to be found in the direction of François Truffaut here. He paints this story as something tragic and grandly passionate, yet shows everything from one side to showcase the destructiveness of Adele. His most successful step is that he doesn’t judge Adele’s actions harshly per say. Yes her behaviour verges from lovesick to obsessive and manipulative at times, but he incorporates a sense of sympathy to her that you can’t miss. He gives The Story of Adele H a deep subtlety that many could miss at first but later witness as the heroine’s mind begins to noticeably crumble. Through the use of diary entries and voice overs from Adele, we don’t necessarily understand Adele’s mind but she has such a ferocious love that we can’t help but be shocked or moved by it. The pace unravels deliberately as a result and it makes Adele’s descent even more tragic as she goes from seemingly respectable girl to woman possessed by a love that knows no limit. Some may take issue with the slow revealing of it all, but my advice is to stay with it as it pays dividends to the haunting and saddening story on show. The cinematography paints a gloomy picture of the complexity of obsessive love, using grey and muted tones for the surroundings of Halifax. And the music score hits just the right notes of melancholy and delusion, much like the main character herself.
Isabelle Adjani is the key to this film and the real anchor of it. Adjani was 19 when she filmed this movie and her performance transcended her young years. With a magnetic screen presence, Adjani crafts a heroine of deep-rooted obsession, devotion and worrying intensity. At the start there is a degree of subtlety to Adele that Isabelle Adjani plays to well, as the character just seems to be a compulsive liar. But as her desires are laid bare and her actions become more extreme, the frightening depth of her unrequited love(thanks to the stunning work from Adjani), is slowly revealed in disturbing yet emotional ways. I believe the greatest success of Adjani’s work is that she didn’t fall into the mad woman role in an over the top way. Instead she took the internal route, that is wonderfully conveyed through her hypnotic gaze, that slowly pulled back the tragic layers of a woman broken by her determination and devotion. Quite simply, the performance is a masterful one that won’t leave you once you’ve seen it. Bruce Robinson takes the role of the selfish and spurning Pinson, who doesn’t understand Adele and wants her to leave. It’s the lesser role of the two because the work of Adjani is so powerful, but Robinson plays the part well.
A poetic and devastating movie that plumbs the depths of unrequited love and the damaging wounds of it, The Story of Adele H is a hard movie to forget. More so because it is based on a melancholy true story that is vividly brought to life by Truffaut and the startling work of Isabelle Adjani.