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.
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.
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.
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)