Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Story of Adele H.

Based on the diaries of Adele Hugo, L’Histoire d’Adele H. (The Story of Adele H.) recounts the life of the daughter of writer Victor Hugo and her love for a military officer that would lead to her downfall. Directed by Francois Truffaut with a script by Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman, Jean Grualt, and Frances Vernor Guille, the film is an exploration of a young woman’s encounter with an officer in the mid-19th Century as she is played by Isabelle Adjani. Also starring Bruce Robinson and Sylvia Marriott. L’Histoire d’Adele H. is an intense yet haunting film from Francois Truffaut.

The film is set during the early 1860s in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Adele Hugo travels to the island to find the British officer she lives in Lt. Pinson (Bruce Robinson) as she hopes to marry him despite the fact that he keeps pushing her away. It’s a film that explores a period in Adele Hugo’s life as she goes under different alias so that people wouldn’t know who her father is as she stays at a boarding house run by the kind Mrs. Saunders (Sylvia Marriott). Upon her pursuit for Lt. Pinson, Adele would start to unravel emotionally and mentally as images of her older sister’s death would appear in her nightmares. The film’s script takes place in the span of an entire year from Adele’s arrival to Halifax where Lt. Pinson is stationed in to her growing descent into madness as she would do whatever to claim him.

While Lt. Pinson does care for her, he couldn’t deal with her desperation and antics as she would eventually cause troubled for him in his own life. The first half is about Adele’s pursuit while its second half is about her slow descent to madness and her attempts to ruin the new life that Lt. Pinson is trying to create. Many of which would have Adele claiming to be Lt. Pinson’s wife and claimed to have married him as she would constantly write letters to her family as they would give her money. Yet, Adele’s antics would cause disappointment among her family as they beg her to come home to be with her ailing mother as Adele’s behavior would eventually become more and more erratic towards the end of the film.

Francois Truffaut’s direction is pretty simple yet effective in the way he portrays a year in the life of Adele Hugo. Though the film is shot in the island of Guernsey, where Victor Hugo lived in exile during that time, due to the fact that Halifax didn’t look like what it was during the mid-19th Century. It does play into the world that Adele is in as she tries to go to the various places where Lt. Pinson is at as he is prepared to take part in the American Civil War if it would reach Halifax. The direction has Truffaut use a lot of close-ups and medium shots to maintain an intimacy in the story as well as play into Adele’s growing descent into madness. Early on, she looks like a proper woman but slowly would look ragged and lost as she would follow Lt. Pinson wherever he is as she would become more desperate and erratic. There is also a sense of melancholia that lingers in the film as Truffaut would incorporate that into the story as well as the fate that Adele would eventually succumb to. Overall, Truffaut crafts a very eerie yet evocative film about Adele Hugo’s descent into madness.

Cinematographer Nestor Almendros does amazing work with the film‘s lush and intoxicating cinematography with its use of low-key and natural lights for some of its nighttime exterior and interiors as well as vibrant colors for some of the daytime exterior scenes. Editors Yann Dedet, Martine Barraque, Jean Gargonne, Michele Neny, and Muriel Zeleny do excellent work with the film‘s stylized editing with the use of dissolve for the nightmare sequences as well as jump-cuts and transition wipes to play with its structure. Production designer Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko does fantastic work with the set pieces such as the home that Adele stays at to the taverns and bookstore that she goes to.

Costume designer Jacqueline Guyot is brilliant for the dresses that Adele wears to play into her personality as well as the uniform that Lt. Pinson wears. The sound work of Michel Laurent and Jean-Pierre Rush is terrific for the atmosphere that is presented on many of the film‘s locations including a party that Adele crashes. The film’s music by Maurice Jaubert is superb for its somber orchestral score that plays into Adele‘s growing descent as well as some more chilling pieces in the nightmare sequences.

The film’s wonderful cast includes some notable small roles from Francois Truffaut as a soldier Adele encounters, Cecil de Sausmarez as a notary in a bank Adele goes to, Roger Martin as a doctor who discovers Adele’s true identity yet keeps it a secret, Ruben Dorey as Mr. Saunders, Sir Raymond Falla as a judge whose daughter was to marry Lt. Pinson, and Ivry Gitlis as a hypnotist Adele tries to hire during a show she attends. Joseph Blatchley is terrific as a kind book store owner who tries to help Adele while Sylvia Marriott is excellent as the very warm Mrs. Saunders who makes sure that Adele lives comfortably while keeping her identity a secret.

Bruce Robinson is superb as Lt. Pinson as a man who is being pursued by Adele as he knows that he can’t love her like he used to as he devotes himself to duty and seeking a new life for himself. Finally, there’s Isabelle Adjani in a tremendous performance as Adele Hugo as she brings in this fierce intensity to her character that is filled with anguish and a determination to be loved. Most notably in the way she presents Adele’s descent into madness with a physically and raggedness that is just eerie to watch as it is one of Adjani’s finest performances.

L’Histoire d’Adele H. is a remarkable film from Francois Truffaut that features a magnificent performance from Isabelle Adjani. The film isn’t just an eerie portrait into a woman trying to claim the love of a man who doesn’t love her but an exploration into mental illness and a woman’s desperation that would lead to madness. In the end, L’Histoire d’Adele H. is a phenomenal film from Francois Truffaut.

Francois Truffaut Films: The 400 Blows - Shoot the Piano Player -Jules & Jim - Antoine & Colette - The Soft Skin - Fahrenheit 451 - The Bride Wore Black - Stolen Kisses - Mississippi Mermaid - The Wild Child - Bed and Board - Two English Girls - Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me - Day for Night - Small Change - The Man Who Loved Women - The Green Room - Love on the Run - The Last Metro - The Woman Next Door - Confidentially Yours

The Auteur #40: Francois Truffaut (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

Truffaut is one of my favorite directors and this film is quite remarkable, I loved Adjani on it and the whole setting.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I have a few more Truffaut films to cover for the year as he is my big Auteurs piece for the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard of this but I love Isabelle Adjani in Diabolique. This sounds like a lovely period drama, might be a good intro to Truffaut for me.

ruth said...

Heh, that was me Ruth (FlixChatter) in that last comment, hit Anonymous by accident :P

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-This is considered to be one of Adjani's great performances. As for Truffaut, The 400 Blows is the best place to start.