What I’m Watching – The Story of Adele H.

Even though I consider myself a bit of a cinephile, it wasn’t really until I got cable and was turned on to the wonders of Turner Classic Movies and the Independent Film Channel that I think I was really exposed to a lot of foreign films.  Or silent films, for that matter.  Sure, I’ve liked German movies – especially by Herzog – and I’d seen The Seven Samurai, but I hadn’t ever seen any films Bergman, Felinni or Truffaut.  While Bergman and Fellini are a bit hit and miss, for my tastes, it was Truffaut who was the real find.  Looking back, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. 

Until I caught up with him on cable – usually on DVR – I knew Truffaut but about the only thing I’d ever seen him do was play the French guy looking for aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Seeing his films for the first time, though, I realized what a great talent I’d been missing.  First there was The 400 Blows.  In all honesty, when I watched it for the first time my thought was that it was an interesting little film, about a boy falling into trouble at every turn, but there was nothing about it that demanded it be viewed as a classic.  Over the coming weeks, though, the story stayed with me and I found that although it was something of a simple story, it was so much more profound than that.  Unfortunately, while it might be profound I haven’t quite figured out what it means, but I’m working on it.  Perhaps that’s what makes it a good movie, that even now, a couple years later, I’m still thinking about it.

After that I turned on to Jules and Jim, with the incomparable Jeanne Moreau as Catherine.  Unlike The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim wasn’t a simple little film, but seemed to break free of those restraints.  It incorporated all sorts of techniques into the making of the movie, from newsreels to voiceovers, and was even a bit daring thematically, in that it told the story of a woman in love with a pair of men and how she ebbs and flows from them, depending on her mood.  What might very well have been shocking, at the tail-end of the 50s was instead treated as completely normal in.  As wonderful as all that may be, though, the best moments are reserved for Moreau, who sings the beautiful song, Le Tourbillon, who’s lyrics seem to sum up the relationship between the characters.  For days I was haunted by the song and was happy I managed to find an MP3 of it.  I listened to the song in my car for weeks.

From there it was on to Day for Night, the magnificent Oscar winner, and then The Story of Adele H.

The Story of Adele H. holds a special allure for me, seeing as it stars the magnificently beautiful Isabelle Adjani.  My first real exposure to Mme. Adjani was in that dreadful remake of Diabolique, with Sharon Stone.  Later, though, I would see her in Polanski’s strange little movie, The Tenant.  More importantly, she was in Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, directed by my personal favorite, Werner Herzog.  Given the dreamy eeriness she brought to Nosferatu, and the fact that she received an Academy Award nomination for Adele H., I was more than a little excited to see it.

Given the excitement it wouldn’t be a shock to say I was disappointed – whenever I build something up for like that, I am always disappointed – but I wasn’t.  In fact, the movie was more than satisfying.  I’d say it was nearly perfect.

In the movie Adele, the daughter of novelist and poet Victor Hugo, travels to Nova Scotia, Canada, following a British soldier.  They’ve had an affair and she is in love but he’s something of a cad and discards her.  As he pulls away she tries ever harder to retain a grip on him, becoming increasingly obsessed the until finally, following him to Barbados, she takes complete leave of her senses and no longer even recognizes her lover.  You can see that in the closing scenes of the movie:

What the film has in common with the rest of Truffaut’s oeuvre – at least what I’ve seen of it – is absolutely nothing.  Stylistically and thematically it is hardly a piece with any of the other films, and perhaps that’s what I appreciate so much about his work.  He’s so varied from film to film that you don’t go into them expecting to see more of the same.  Instead you go into them like a child on Christmas morning, wondering what surprises this box of goodies will reveal.

Watching it, the feeling I had, though, wasn’t so much how it was different from his other films, but how much it seemed to have in common with the works of Herzog.  I don’t mean to belabor Herzog, by any means, but I have the sneaking suspicion that if one were to run a film series that included all the Herzog fiction films from Aguirre to Fitzcarraldo and slipped Adele H. discreetly into the mix, nobody would think it was out of place.  Perhaps it’s a little bit slicker than the rest in some ways, and doesn’t fetishize nature or stylization, but it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  It’s almost like the Herzog film that Herzog didn’t make.  And seeing as to how I am a sucker for all things Herzog, it’s not a shock that I loved this film.

As a note: It might be difficult to see but from the movie poster above the movie was ‘presented’ by Roger Corman.  Though he’s known for being a schlock-merchant, never let it be said that the man was completely without taste.

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