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Best Shot: Isabelle Adjani in "The Story of Adele H"

Previously on Season 3 of Hit Me With Your Best Shot...

Today we're officially back to weekly "Best Shot" posts with François Truffaut's biotragedy THE STORY OF ADELE H (1975). For nearly thirty years French beauty Isabelle Adjani held the record for the Youngest Best Actress Nominee of all time; she was 20 when Adele H made her an international star. To add to Adjani's Oscar Curio factor, she still holds another record: she's the only actor or actress ever nominated twice for French language performances. Nomination #2 came for another biotragedy Camille Claudel (1988). [Marion Cotillard surely hopes to tie that particular Best Actress record later this year in Rust and Bone (2012).]

Adjani all but vanished from screens round about the time she and Daniel Day-Lewis procreated and split. The sensational Queen Margot (1994) and the reviled Diabolique (1996) with Sharon Stone were her last big draws so I assume many readers are unfamiliar and that this Best Shot subject would be a fresh choice. I did not however make the connection that post-Possessed this meant two movies back-to-back featuring women who utterly debase themselves for the love of a playboy who does, in his defense, try to warn her crazy away. Even though both films belong to my favorite subgenre Women Who Lie To Themselves™ it was a disconcerting double feature. 

Adele H doesn't just lie to herself though. She lies to virtually everyone in her relentless pursuit of her former lover Lt. Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson) who she intends to marry. She prides herself repeatedly on her willingness to cross the Ocean for him, a big deal in 1863.

Though I'd argue that François Truffaut's marriage of traditional costume drama and nouvelle vague experimentation is sometimes an awkward one, I do love the film's take on letters which Adele mostly reads aloud as she writes, sometimes directly to the camera as in this gorgeous passage when Adele recites an entire letter to daddy while the camera actually crosses the Ocean (and then some maps) to deliver it.

She's Written A Letter To Daddy... (my second choice for "best shot")

My dear parents,
I have just married Lieutenant Pinson. The ceremony took place Saturday in a church in Halifax. I need money for my trousseau. I must have 300 francs immediately... in addition to my allowance. If you'd taken care of my music as I've asked you 100 times that would bring me in some money and I wouldn't have to behave like a beggar. 

It's in the letter readings where Adjani earns the historic Oscar nomination. Her lies are so proud and delivered with such entitled petulance that she almost seems thrilled to be reciting them. What's false is true and Adele believes this with religious conviction. And nost just Sunday only conviction but a tent-revival sort of fanaticism. Similarly perverse beats occur when she seems turned on by Lt. Pinson's sexual interest in everyone but her. Adjani is also excellent at delineating Adele's complex relationship to her family name ("H" being the clue and part of the reason I chose the movie at this time) whether she's embracing it, hiding it, or using it as dangling carrot.

Great Moments in Costuming #317,201

But for the Best Shot prize, I choose a shot that falls within a far more typically Oscar-baity context. Toward the end of the film, the inevitable occurs and Adele's internal madness is acutely externalized. After a dog bites at her heels, tearing her dress, she wanders the streets.

In an 18 second unbroken shot she approaches oblivious to the camera she's often looking at. The camera  briefly focuses on the ragged hem of her once rich gown as she passes us by before it pans up again to a bookstore window where Adele's lonely never-suitor stares at his former friend, now utterly alien. She spins about in the street muttering (inaudible) nonsense to herself. She's always spoken nonsense but now that everyone can hear it for what it is, there's no point in listening.

best shot

Don't Believe Her Lies!!!
Antagony & Ecstacy ...thinks it a damn good movie.
Film Actually... on a soldier's indifference
Cinesnatch... 'for the man you claim to be her father'
Okinawa Assault [SPOILERS] talks downward spirals and dusty mirrors

Next Thursday Night: Kim Novak and William Holden get all hot and bothered in the Oscar favorite PICNIC (1955), which I've never seen! Bring your own blankets and sandwiches (and blog posts)

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Reader Comments (18)

"She's always spoken nonsense but now that everyone can hear it for what it is, there's no point in listening." Really good point, Nat. Love your pic. Mine was kind of generic, I guess.

I would say her best "acting" moment was when she briefly began to cry learning that indeed Vinson didn't care either way that she was in Halifax and had nothing to say about her letter, before she trailed off upstairs.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCinesnatch

Are you kidding? I love your choice. Such a great scene. And actually this post of yours is my favorite of your contributions to this series so far. Loved the bit about the seasons. so go read it people.

June 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Adjani did not disappeared since Diabolique, she was in quite a few French films and most notably, won her record-breaking 5th Cesar Best Actress award for 2010's "Skirt Day", in which she turned in another brilliant performance. IMO, she deserved to win for both her Academy Award nominations. She would have had if both were English language films.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Bryan -- i mean disappeared from view. She did take several years off and then hasn't had a lead role in an internationally released film since (though i understand she still makes french movies). wish we got them here.

June 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Lovedthis actress and this movie ... have not thought about it in years .. I really want to rewatch it now... Thanks!

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Great articles, all - The Story of Adele H. is one of my very favorite Truffaut films, and seemingly so underappreciated or underseen! Hope this inspires some folks to check it out...

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Adjani's a fascinating figure, especially since the first time I heard about her is from an article in V Magazine addressing really vile rumours about her disappearance. She's like Kate Bush but a French actress.

And I love your best shot. That bookstore clerk is totally more handsome than Albert.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

Some interesting trivia: That year, we had the first César ever. Adjani was nominated for best actress but lost to Romy Schneider in That Most Important Thing: Love, by Andrzej Zulawski (it's a Bette Davis-Gloria Swanson situation). I've mentioned that Schneidr performance before: it's one of the thrre actress-playing-actress performances that inspired Almodóvar to make All About My Mother and he thanks all of them in closing credits (the others are Davis in All About Eve and Gena Rowlands in Opening Night). Adjani would win her first César for an even more incredible performance in a movie called... Possession, directed by the same Zulawski, in which Adjani plays a woman that goes NUTS after a relationship is over.

I found these connections and coincidences interesting. Love is a kind of possession, too. Praise Adjani and Crawford for these portraits of broken hearts.

There's another story about Adele H. that I absolutely love. Truffaut first saw her on stage, and send her a short letter: "You deserve to be filmed every day of the week, including Sundays".

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Oof, I'm gonna warn ya... Picnic is a tough one. A melodrama without awareness or tact. I watched it in film studies in High School. Perhaps if I watched it again today (11 years later!) my opinion would change.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Her second nomination is in '89.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

4rtful -- i count the film year itself, not the ceremony year. Site standard. IMDb does it differently unfortunately.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Jessica Tandy Driving Miss Daisy Daisy Werthan
Isabelle Adjani Camille Claudel Camille Claudel
Pauline Collins Shirley Valentine Shirley Valentine-Bradshaw
Jessica Lange Music Box Ann Talbot
Michelle Pfeiffer The Fabulous Baker Boys Susie Diamond

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

but you're not listening. :) I COUNT THE FILM YEAR. NOT THE CEREMONY YEAR. always have. always will.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

and for what it's worth, the Academy's official site also lists the actors by the film year and not the ceremony year

OH WAIT. I SEE WHAT YOU'RE SAYING. NEVER MIND. (sorry this is a pet peeve of mine that IMDB and wikipedia confuse the issue when the Academy and The Film Experience agree that you go by the film year being honored rather than the ceremony year. But you're right it was the 1989 film year in 1990. lol.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

That ceremony was in 1990. The release year (American release) is '89.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

The most beautiful woman the world has ever seen.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

You know while I was watching this movie I didn't think I liked it very much but I loved writing about it and I can't stop thinking about it this week.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I see your point Nathaniel, btw, thanks for posting this, I rarely see anyone these days writing an article about my favourite actress of all time.... cheers

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBryan
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