Story of Adele H, The (1975)

The Story of Adele H (1975), directed by François Truffaut.

A true story: in 1863 a daughter of Victor Hugo -- the most famous man in the world at that time -- crossed the Atlantic alone under an assumed name in pursuit of a British officer stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She loved him with obsessive, tormented passion and he cared nothing for her at all.

She's insane and we feel sorry for her. Crafty and self-deluded are a sad combination.

She begs him, threatens him and gives him money. She buys paper by the ream for her letters and journals (like her father, always writing). She has nightmares of a sister who drowned and tries to contact her via a seance. She offers the officer an open marriage and even pays for a prostitute for him so he won't be lonely. She puts a pillow under her shirt to simulate pregnancy and worships at a shrine she made to him. She ruins his engagement and explores hiring a hypnotist who will make him marry her.

(It sounds like those modern tales of women who send ten thousand texts to a man after one dinner date).

Her mind and health decline and her clothes become ragged. She wanders the streets, first of Halifax and then of Barbados where her lover was transferred. When she meets him again she no longer knows him.

What happened to her after the film? She was brought back to France from Barbados and lived a quiet secluded life in an asylum for another 40 years. The story is based on her letters and diaries, some of which were not deciphered until a few years before the film.

Beautiful Isabelle Adjani (age 19, The Driver (1978), Queen Margot (1994)) is tremendously sympathetic. Smart, focused, appealing but unloved. Everyone is kind to her and there is a nice bookshop owner... but no.

Bruce Robinson plays the indifferent officer who will not turn down money or sex. He got out of acting and wrote and directed Withnail and I (1987), Jennifer 8 (1992) and The Rum Diary (2011). He also wrote The Killing Fields (1984), Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) and others.

Photographed by Néstor Almendros (Days of Heaven (1978), The Last Metro (1980)). Writing about this film he said -- modestly -- that when people praise cinematography they often actually mean the set design, costuming and beauty of the players.

Unusually, the score is repurposed classic French film music by Maurice Jaubert, who died fighting in WW2 in 1940.

Twilight Time had the Blu-ray, now out of print. Regulars Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman do the commentary track. The English subtitles for spoken French are burned in; the subtitle track for spoken English is selectable.