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The Story of Adèle H. | Blu-ray Review

The Story of Adele H François Truffaut Blu-rayYou no doubt know of a crazy local or two that mills around your town in a daze, occasionally causing disturbances, but otherwise remains fairly harmless. If you stop to think about it, it’s possible that they may have had an entirely different life with a past rich with fame, fortune and family, but sadly, their final warped reality is often the result of something as tragic as mental illness. In the case of François Truffaut‘s true to life telling of French literary master Victor Hugo’s increasingly demented daughter’s obsessive breakdown in The Story of Adèle H., the vagabond fate stems from haughty infatuation and swiftly disintegrates into detached delirium not unlike those familiar empty faces asking for bus fare or something to eat on your local street corner.

The Story of Adèle H. followed Truffaut’s Best Foreign Picture winning Day For Night, gleaning its own Oscar nomination for 19 year old Isabelle Adjani’s shifty performance in the leading role. Adjani plays Adèle, the dignified but rebellious daughter of Victor Hugo who after fleeing France with her family to Guernsey, fell in love with British officer Albert Pinson (played with a an odd blankness by future Withnail & I director Bruce Robinson) and subsequently followed him in secret to Halifax when his outfit was stationed there. Adjani wholly embodies an immense transformation over the course of the film, morphing from an adoring mousy immigrant to an outright infatuated fanatic willing to selfishly steal from family and smear those unwilling to bend to her agenda as though she were a love sick Dr. Jekyll/Ms. Hyde.

Lens by Days of Heaven and Kramer vs. Kramer cinematographer Néstor Almendros, The Story of Adèle H. flourishes in the gloom of shadow, mirroring the emotional murk in which Adele delves longingly into. Pairing this subtly despairing mise en scène with musical samplings of Jean Vigo’s regular composer Maurice Jaubert and Adjani’s increasingly mad performance which leads us down a rabbit hole of unrequited love and an eventual epiphony of emotional dementia, Truffaut is careful never to divulge too much. Rather, he doles out charactorial hints as narrative rations, leading us on, hungry for more. The film remains, if not one of Truffaut’s most remembered films, certainly a masterclass on the dissent into onscreen madness.

Disc Review:

Packaged in a classy clear case (fairly new for Twilight Time releases), Truffaut’s decent into obsessive madness is admirably presented in HD with only a single scene appearing a bit soft and unnaturally desaturated. Much of the time the picture is pleasingly crisp. The original mix of French and English dialogue comes cleanly through an uncompressed mono track, as does the lush score by Jean Vigo’s regular composer Maurice Jaubert.

Audio Commentary with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
Always extremely knowledgeable, Kirgo speaks at length about the making of the film and its lasting historical context, while Redman stands aside, posing an occasional question to keep the conversation rolling.

Theatrical Trailer
Drenched with longing and deeply pensive, the trailer preps us with tone and character, but not much else, happily. 3 min

As in her audio commentary, Kirgo writes elegantly and astutely on both the film and Truffaut’s career in an essay that lines the booklet, alongside production stills and promotional artwork.

Final Thoughts:

If nothing else, The Story of Adèle H. should be remembered for definitively launching the career of Isabelle Adjani, who would go on to win the best actress prize at Cannes just a few years later for a pair of performances in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession and James Ivory’s Quartet and be once again nominated for an Oscar for playing the lead in Bruno Nuytten’s Camille Claudel. The real Adèle Hugo is believed to have developed schizophrenia and subsequently lived out her long life in an institution, generally forgotten by the public who so adored and celebrated her famous father. Truffaut doesn’t take us down that grim road, instead opting for a vacuous emotional free fall like a stone dropped down the mouth of a well. There is only a wave of darkness awaiting to swallow up all who plunge from grace.

Film: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

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