Film Actresses & Global Classics
In this series I offer my reflections on actresses and their most compelling performances in (mostly) classics of global cinema.
ISABELLE ADJANI ACTRESS 2: THE STORY OF ADELE H.
Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adèle H., François Truffaut
Isabelle Adjani and François Truffaut
The Story of Adèle H. is based on Frances Vernor Guille’s edition of Adèle Hugo’s diaries. In the foreword to the English version of the script (Grove Press, 1976), Truffaut writes that, ever since The Wild Child (based on Dr. Jean Itard’s memoir), he had been ‘fascinated by the creative process of using real-life events as a basis for a fiction that would not distort the authenticity of the source material’. This documentary dimension of the film (to Méliès Truffaut has always preferred the brothers Lumière) is certainly part of the film’s power, but what makes the film so moving is Isabelle Adjani’s incarnation of Adèle.
Bruce Robinson and Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adèle H., François Truffaut
Adèle showing Mrs. Saunders her Hugo family album
If love is always the repetition of our history of love, then inevitably family experience will interfere in our attempts to love and be loved. Complementing the clues in the film with a visit to the library, we learn that Léopoldine, Victor Hugo’s favourite daughter, was named after Léopold, the Hugo’s son who had died in infancy. The great poet structured his mourning for his dead daughter (newly wed, she was not yet nineteen when she drowned in the Seine) in a cycle of eighteen poems that quickly became classic, making Léopoldine mythic. Her husband, Charles Vacquerie, unable to save her, chose to drown with her, thus reinforcing the myth of the ill-starred couple. Adèle, before she met Lieutenant Pinson, had been seen as a prospective bride for Vacquerie’s brother, Auguste. Moreover, Adèle not only carried the weight of the Hugo name, but also shared her first name with her mother. The daughter who really disappeared, then, was not Léopoldine but Adèle. A skeleton in the family closet, her posthumous life was launched by The Story of Adèle H. Why didn’t her father love her ‘well enough’ (as Winnicott would say)? Firstly, she reminded him that her mother was having an affair at the time (though her paternity was never really in doubt). Secondly, Adèle’s living presence awakened her father’s memories of his preferred daughter. Finally, the great man feared Adèle’s behaviour would put a stain on his name. If the circulation of love in families is always complex, it’s nevertheless clear that Adèle was sacrificed to paternal ambition.
Isabelle Adjani, L’Histoire d’Adèle H., François Truffaut
Auguste de Châtillon, Léopoldine Hugo, 1835
By Richard Jonathan | © Mara Marietta Culture Blog, 2019 | All rights reserved