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Thirty years later it is hard to imagine "The Story of Adele H" without
the then twenty-year old Isabelle Adjani as the title character. But at
the time Truffaut's decision to cast the young French theatre star was
very risky. Not because there was any doubt about Adjani's acting, but
because casting someone who was arguably the most beautiful actress in
the world as a character driven mad by unrequited love raised a
potential credibility issue. Would viewers believe that the advances of
a woman so beautiful, passionate, and intelligent were rejected? And
could someone like that elicit sympathy from the average viewer.
But Truffaut knew what he was doing because Adjani's Adele Hugo is 100% convincing. And rather than going for audience sympathy they go for audience frustration as the viewer is increasingly exasperated over Adele's self-destructive behavior. Adjani's breathtaking beauty actually is an asset as Truffaut wants us convinced that the world holds open unlimited possibilities for Adele if only see can let go of her obsession. Adjani plays the character with such intensity that you are finally relieved when Adele's madness has reached the stage where she is no longer aware of her own suffering.
Apparently Adele Hugo (Victor Hugo's daughter) had other issues going on well before her obsessive quest for Lt. Pinson's love began. Her sister had drowned and her parents had always strongly favored the sister over Adele. She has recurrent nightmares about drowning and sees marriage to Pinson as the only way to escape from her father. Visually, Truffaut's stays with blacks, browns and blues; with much of each frame filled with shadows; not exactly dreary but consistent with a character who has found little non-fantasy happiness during her life.
The camera loves Adjani, a good thing as she is on screen for over 90% of the film. She was the youngest nominee ever for best actress. It was the best performance of the 1970's, probably no one but Adjani could have conveyed such inner emotional violence. It is that extremely rare visual performance that does not need subtitles or even sound.
As Roger Ebert noted: "Truffaut finds a certain nobility in Adele. He quotes one of the passages in her diaries twice: She writes that she will walk across the ocean to be with her lover. He sees this, not as a declaration of love, but as a statement of a single-mindedness so total that a kind of grandeur creeps into it. Adele was mad, yes, probably - but she lived her life on such a vast and romantic scale that it's just as well Pinson never married her. He would have become a disappointment".
A genuine horror film of the spirit---the filmmaking is excellent and a
of a thematic departure for Truffaut as there is little to no leavening
humour in this film. In most of his works there is at least a touch of
ironic drollness but this film is basically serious-minded all the way
through with devastating results.
"Haunting" is the best way to describe Adjani's work in this, one of her first film appearances. Her best moments are wordless; in her eyes is the essense of spiritual dissipation and emotional emaciation. Before our eyes, she is devoured by love, and not in the conventional sense. Without the film ever leaving the secular world, Adele Hugo descends to Hell and Truffaut finds the horror of her journey in the most mundane settings and gestures. A movie that stays with you.
A lacerating but very rewarding experience!
Isabelle Adjani plays the title role, that of Adele Hugo, daughter of
the great French writer, a woman obsessively in love with an English
army lieutenant who doesn't want her. The scene is Halifax, Nova
Scotia, during the time of the American Civil War. She has followed Lt.
Pinson (Bruce Robinson) from her home in exile on the island of
Guernsey to be with him even though he has rejected her. Adjani's
sensuous beauty and her intense and passionate nature command the
screen and we are drawn to identify with her as she spirals toward
madness as her abject pleas of love are unrequited. We watch as she
debases herself in every way possible in a desperate attempt to gain
Pinson's love, even to the point of giving him to other women. She is
psychologically pleased with this because she thinks it shows that her
love for him transcends sexuality. Of course the nature of obsessive
love is always entirely selfish. If you really love someone who doesn't
want you, you have to let them go. But of course she cannot.
Francois Truffaut directed and did a fine job of getting the most out of his young star. The maddening nature of obsession is well depicted and the story is focused and unfolds at a deliberate pace. Noteworthy is the setting itself, a cold and remote clime so that Adele is in isolation from her home, family and friends with little to do or think about every day except her obsession. It is easy to see how something like this can lead to complete madness.
Memorable is a little story within the larger tale, that of the fraudulent hypnotist whom Adele thinks might be able to turn Pinson's indifference into love.
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This movie is the nineteenth-century version of Fatal Attraction - only much
more disturbing because it really happened. Plus, the psychology of the
Glenn Close character and Adele Hugo is totally different: the Close
character was a disturbed psychopath to begin with, but Adele Hugo was an
educated and talented individual who makes one ponder at length about why
she lost her sanity over this man and did these unfathomable things. It is
all the more strange when one thinks that this kind of behavior was so rare
in that day and age, unlike today and the commonality of
Adele's behavior is explained by the nightmares she has, and the story she relates to the landlady, of the death of her older sister. Apparently, the sister, Leopoldine, was much more beloved than Adele, to the point of her parents' keeping shrines in the house of Leopoldine's old dresses after she died. Adele dreams of herself drowning in place of her sister - something she believes her parents would have preferred. Thus, she obsesses with finding a man to marry - not only to separate herself from her parents, but also to bestow the love that she feels has always been lacking from them.
Throughout the movie, the viewer is transfixed, gaping, at the action on the screen because the things this woman does in regards to her obsession with making this man, who can't stand her, love and marry her are unbelievable. After awhile, the viewer just wants to strangle Adele, however, because the blatant denial she is in becomes EXTREMELY frustrating! One just finally wants to beat some sense into her, bind and gag her, and throw her onto the first ship back to Guernsey!! The patience of the poor, long-suffering "lover" is a lesson to us all: I am sure that he lay in bed at night thinking of all sorts of ways to kill her, but didn't. I don't think that I would have had that kind of self-control!
Anyway, it's a good movie for any young person who is vulnerable to obsession with relationships - it makes one think more than twice! The only question I have is: Why was the main character suddenly seen wearing glasses only in the last third of the movie?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first time I saw this film (twenty years ago) the thing that
impressed me the most was Isabelle Adjani's portrayal of Adele, the
natural way in which she conveyed her character's emotions. Seeing it
again recently, I was able to better appreciate the film's fine
crafting. One can sense Truffaut's hand in the direction, even if it
seems a bit different and less complex than other films of his.
However, I found this one to be the most haunting of all the Truffaut
films I saw. It skillfully depicts Adele's circumstances and her
torment without turning into a sentimental melodrama. As her
desperation grows, so do her actions turn more and more irrational and
outrageous. Yet, there is something about Adele that makes one
understand her and feel for her. I credit that to Adjani's talent and
the director's vision.
The final scene punched me emotionally and spoke volumes without any of the characters uttering a word to each other: Adele, her mind lost by now, passing by Lt. Pinson without even recognizing him - so consumed with her obsession and grief for her lost love that she forgot who was the cause of her torment. In a way, all she remembered was not Pinson himself, but the idea of being with him.
I think this film is an interesting psychological study. In spite of its character's tragism, it doesn't try to be morally conclusive or emotionally manipulative. Adele seems to be a victim, but is she a victim of another's insensitivity, a victim of circumstances, or a victim of her own emotional instability? Or, is she a victim at all?
Maybe that's why the film elicits such a lasting impression: it leaves enough for the viewers to think about and digest afterwards, and eventually to draw their own conclusions.
I don't know how historically accurate this film is. However, it is a
very powerful performance by Isabelle Adjani. In this movie she is
simply one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.
She plays the tormented daughter of Victor Hugo. She follows her love to Newfoundland, as he has been transferred there by his country's military authorities. He has broken off the engagement. However she pursues him relentlessly.
Very few films can match this one in the portrayal of obsessive love. The scenery is very beautiful and the acting performances very convincing.
I've heard this has been deemed a kind of cult film, for a certain following. I would think it would have broader appeal. It speaks to the hearts of millions of people who have become obsessive in their love for another person who does not return the feeling. A kind of ultimate unrequited love.
I could watch this movie anytime, over and over.
Summary: A talented writer, Adele Hugo, becomes obsessed with her
former lover , the indebted and womanizing Liutenant Pinson. Her love
for him consumes her entire life and she eventually goes crazy because
he doesn't love her back.
Acting: Except for Adjani's performance, the acting is not very good, but that doesn't matter too much because the only person with a large role is Adjani. The guy who plays Pinson is pretty one dimensional. Anyway though, Adjani gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and balances her character's vigorously muscular and blunt aggression with her character's silky-fine desperation and entrapment. Another actress might have played Adele as being recklessly obsessed, but Adjani doesn't do that. Adjani actually shows us the thoughts and rationality of her character; we first see Adele as an intelligent, innocent young woman who somehow, some way, becomes slimmed down to a stub of passion in Pinson's presence. Cinematography: bland and bleak, which works in a way because that's how Adele views the world in comparison to her own out-of-proportion sadness, but also doesn't work because that's all it does: show us how the world looks like to Adele. I would have preferred if the cinematography actually captured the different emotions Adele was going through in each scene, it would have made the cinematography less one-note. This flaw in the cinematography unfortunately carries over to the overall tone of the film. Script: Good. It definitely conveys how Adele is always trying, with a passion so great it verges on the comical, to form the confusion of her life into a solid piece of truth. Part of this passion seems to be part of her neuroses; part of it seems to be the artist in her at work.
The one flaw in the script was the voice over at the end: it didn't really give you a good idea of the rest of Adele's life, and I bet the writer put it in there because he thought, " Whoa, this script is pretty long. I'd better gloss over the later years of Adele's life." Costume design: Adele's red dress seems appropriately color-coded with the cinematography of the film, which, as I stated above, isn't such a good thing. Nothing else besides that red dress stuck out at me, and the rest of the costume design was pretty mediocre. Camera-work: Very good. I particularly like the slow zoom-in on the picture of Pinson, it was very powerful. Another good camera-work choice was when Pinson realized that Adele had told her father that she and Pinson were getting married. The director filmed this scene with the door blocking half the screen, which made the viewer feel, like Adele, very cut off from Pinson. I really liked the camera-work here, actually. Music: Powerful and fitting. I particularly liked the music when Pinson was walking towards Adele at the end. Overall: Very good film mainly carried by Adjani's excellent performance.
I loved this film, not only because I live in the city in which the story happened. Films based on personal diaries are always fascinating ('Heavenly Creatures') and this one is also haunting, due partly to the sepia tones. Adele lives in a bubble of despair, rarely venturing out from her tiny room. Her story is a sad one, painful and full of longing and Truffaut captures Adele's sense of isolation, of being out of this world, perfectly. You won't cry, the film is not manipulative, but you will empathize, you will feel her pain.
Brilliant for the precise description of a very subtle frame of mind.
Adele's ways are not obsession's expressions, not love or ambition. It
is only necessity to live, to be, to build a sense without the
protective father's shadow.
And Adjani is charming in a great character who engrosses audience's energy. It is a desire's story but not only desire. It is a cruel adventure, mixed madness and ambition, Emma Bovary world's slices, fear and expectation and an absurd fight.
It is a grotesque Don Quixote's story with oily nuances. Story of propriety like existence's purpose. The dream like escape and the rules like useless convention. In fact,a strange illustration of "Beyond Good and Evil".
A beautiful film about desire's monstrosity,helplessness, misunderstanding,misfortune, illusion's honey and feeling's corpse.
"I'm still young and yet it sometimes seems to me that I've reached the
autumn of my life." This tragic statement, taken from the diaries of
Adele Hugo, daughter of Victor, is both the doomed statement of a young
girl driven mad by love, and an ironic testament to the performance of
a then 20 year old Isabelle Adjani. Francois Truffaut takes us back to
1863, with the American Civil War in full swing, and France and Great
Britain still undecided in participation. Young Adele Hugo arrives at a
camp in Nova Scotia seeking out her great love Lieutenant Pinson (Bruce
Robinson), who she had embarked on a love affair with and whose
potential marriage had been frowned upon.
What may have become a rather frustrating depiction of a desperate woman in love, Truffaut takes special care to create an air of Greek tragedy, as we witness the emotional deterioration of our protagonist, and her desperate pursuit of the unwilling Lieutenant Pinson. Adjani, simply unnervingly beautiful (seriously, how do the French keep doing it?), gives everything to the role. Adele herself, as depicted in the picture, is a time-bomb of emotions, giving every ounce of her strength into the tidal wave of pure love she feels - possibly a result of her father's grand romantic poems and novels - so anything less from Adjani wouldn't haven't done Adele justice.
This is a different kind of work to what I've previously seen from Truffaut - I'm more familiar with his New Wave productions. Adele H. is filmed in dark lighting, acting almost like a character itself signifying the darkness clouding in Adele's emotional torment. Victor Hugo's presence can be felt throughout the film, although he is never seen. Adele's story was taken from her diaries and the frequent letters she wrote to her parents, both of whom were concerned for her well- being. She attempts to keep her identity a secret, but friends are shocked when they uncover her secret, and the film works almost as a testament to Victor Hugo, a bow to his sheer immensity. But whether this is an ode to tragic intellectualism, or a human story that grabbed Truffaut's heart, I'll never know, but this is a gently haunting tale, and one that will make you want to personally open the eyes of Adele to the possibilities that are all around her, were she not so swept away by madness and love.
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