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The Story of Adele H

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The Story of Adele H

The Story of Adele H.
File:L'histoire d'Adèle H..jpg
French film poster
Directed by François Truffaut
Produced by Marcel Berbert
Screenplay by Template:Plainlist
Based on Le Journal d'Adéle Hugo 
by Adéle Hugo
Starring Template:Plainlist
Music by Maurice Jaubert
Cinematography Nestor Almendros
Editing by Yann Dedet
Studio Les Films du Carrosse
Distributed by United Artists (France)
New World Pictures (USA)
Release date(s)Template:Plainlist
Running time 110 minutes
Country France
Language French and English

The Story of Adele H. (French: L'Histoire d'Adèle H.) is a 1975 French historical drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Robinson, and Sylvia Marriott. Written by Truffaut, Jean Gruault, and Suzanne Schiffman, the film is about Adèle Hugo, the daughter of writer Victor Hugo, whose obsessive unrequited love for a military officer leads to her downfall. The story is based on Adèle Hugo's diaries.[1] It was filmed on location in Guernsey, Barbados, and Senegal.[2]

20 year old Isabelle Adjani received much critical acclaim for her performance as Hugo, garnering an Academy Award nomination making her the youngest Best Actress nominee ever at the time. The Story of Adele H. also won the National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best Film, and the Cartagena Film Festival Special Critics Award.[3]


In 1863, the American Civil War is still raging and Great Britain and France have yet to enter into the conflict. For the past year British troops have been stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, carefully checking European passengers disembarking from foreign ships. The beautiful Adèle Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the second daughter of Victor Hugo, makes it through and takes a carriage into Halifax. Traveling under the assumed name of Miss Lewly, Adèle finds accommodations at a boarding house run by Mr. and Mrs. Saunders.

Adèle finds a notary and inquires about a British officer, Lieutenant Pinson (Bruce Robinson), with whom she's had a relationship. Later that day Adèle sees Pinson at a book shop. When she learns that Mr. Saunders will be attending a military dinner which Pinson is likely to attend, Adèle asks him to deliver a letter from her—a love letter announcing her arrival. While showing some old photographs to Mrs. Saunders, she talks about her older sister Léopoldine Hugo, who died in a drowning accident at the age of nineteen many years ago just after being married. When Mr. Saunders returns from the dinner, he tells her that he gave Pinson her letter but he did not reply. That night Adèle has nightmares about drowning.

The next day Adèle writes to her parents, telling them that she must be with her beloved Pinson and that they are planning to marry, but she will wait for their formal consent. She spends her evenings writing in her journal about her life and her love for Pinson. "I'll be able to win him over through gentleness," she writes. Pinson goes to the boarding house, where he tells Adèle that she must leave Halifax and stop following him. Adèle believes that if they marry, all his concerns will be resolved. Pinson knows that her parents do not approve of him and his heavy gambling debts. Adèle tries to persuade him, telling him that she's rejected another marriage proposal, threatens to expose him and ruin his military career, and even offers him money for his gambling debts, but he remains unmoved.

In the coming days, Adèle continues writing in her journal, convinced that she is Pinson's wife in spirit. She tries to conjure the ghost of her dead sister to help her. One night she follows Pinson to the home of his mistress, where she watches them make love. Undeterred, Adèle continues her writing, and her behavior becomes more eccentric. Mr. Whistler (Joseph Blatchley), the kind bookseller who provides her with writing paper, shows an interest in her. As she leaves his book shop, she faints from exhaustion. Mr. Whistler visits her at the boarding house and brings her paper, but she refuses to see him. Doctor Murdock (Roger Martin) visits and diagnoses a mild case of pleurisy. He notices one of her letters is addressed to "Victor Hugo" and informs Mrs. Saunders of the true identity of her boarder.

Adèle's obsession grows stronger. One day she writes to her parents telling them that she has married Pinson and that from now on, she should be addressed as Madame Pinson. Upon receiving the news, Victor Hugo posts an announcement of the marriage in his local paper. The news reaches Pinson's colonel. After Pinson writes Victor Hugo to explain that he will never marry Adèle, Hugo writes to his daughter, urging her to return home to Guernsey. Adèle responds to her father's letter with more fantasy, urging her parents to accept Pinson.

Having learned of Adèle's identity, Mr. Whistler offers her a gift of her father's books. She responds in anger and paranoia. She hires a prostitute as a gift for Pinson. She follows him to a theater to see a hypnotist act, where she is inspired to think that she can hypnotize Pinson into loving her. Adèle begins to go mad with despair. She goes to the father of Pinson's fiancé and claims that he is married to her and that she is carrying his child. The father ends the engagement. After leaving the boarding house, Adèle continues to deteriorate. She wanders the streets in torn clothes talking to herself.

In February 1864 Pinson is shipped out to Barbados, and a destitute Adèle follows him. Now married, Pinson learns that Adèle is in Barbados claiming to be his wife. Concerned about his reputation, Pinson searches for her and finds her wandering the streets in rags. When he tries to confront her, Adèle does not acknowledge or recognize him. Helped by a kind former slave, Adèle returns to Paris, where the French Third Republic has been established. Her father places her in an asylum in Saint-Mandé, where she will live for the next forty years. She gardens, plays the piano and writes in her journal. Adèle Hugo died in Paris in 1915 at the age of 85.


  • Isabelle Adjani as Adèle Hugo
  • Bruce Robinson as Lt. Albert Pinson
  • Sylvia Mariott as Mrs Saunders
  • Joseph Blatchley as Mr. Whistler, bookseller
  • Ivry Gitlis as Hypnotist
  • Louise Bourdet as Victor Hugo's servant
  • Cecil de Sausmarez as Mr Lenoir, notary
  • Ruben Dorey as Mr Saunders
  • Clive Gillingham as Keaton
  • Roger Martin as Doctor Murdock
  • M. White as Colonel White
  • Madame Louise as Madame Baa
  • Sir Raymond Falla as Judge Johnstone
  • Jean-Pierre Leursse as Black penpusher
  • Carl Hathwell as Lt. Pinson's Batman (uncredited)
  • François Truffaut as Officer (uncredited)[4]


Director's comments

Writing about the film, François Truffaut observed:

In writing the script of L'Enfant sauvage based on the memoirs of Dr Jean Itard, we discovered, Jean Gruault and myself, the enormous pleasure of writing historical fiction based on real events, without inventing anything and without altering documented facts. If it is difficult to construct an unanimistic intrigue involving a dozen characters whose paths entwine, it is almost as difficult to write an animistic film focusing on a single person. I believe that it was this solitary aspect which attracted me most to this project; having produced love stories involving two and three people, I wanted to attempt to create a passionate experience involving a character where the passion was one-way only.[5]

Filming locations

Most of the exterior scenes were shot on location in Guernsey, Channel Islands. Many of the film extras were well-known locals. Both Sir Raymond Falla and Sir Cecil de Sausmarez were, at the time, prominent island politicians. Scenes set in Halifax were mainly interiors created in a house in St Peter Port, Guernsey. None of the scenes were filmed in Halifax.[2]


Critical response

In her book, When the Lights Go Down, the American film critic Pauline Kael gave the film a very positive review.

After a two-year break to read and to write, François Truffaut has come back to moviemaking with new assurance, new elation. The Story of Adèle H. is a musical, lilting film with a tidal pull to it. It's about a woman who is destroyed by her passion for a man who is indifferent to her—a woman who realizes herself in self-destruction... This picture is so totally concentrated on one character that it's a phenomenon: we become as much absorbed in Adèle as she is in Lieutenant Pinson. And our absorption extends from the character to a larger view of the nature of neurotically willed romanticism. The subject of the movie is the self-destructive love that everyone has experienced in one form or another. Adèle is a riveting, great character because she goes all the way with it... Only nineteen when the film was shot... you can't take your eyes off Isabelle Adjani. You can perceive why Truffaut, who had worked on the Adèle Hugo material off and on for six years, has said that he wouldn't have made this "musical composition for one instrument" without Adjani... She's right for the role, in the way that the young Jennifer Jones was for Bernadette: you believe her capable of anything, because you can't see yet what she is... Adèle H. is a feat of sustained acuteness, a grand-scale comedy about unrequited love, and it's Truffaut's most passionate work.[6]

In his review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, calling it "a strange, moody film that belongs very much with the darker side of his [Truffaut's] work."[7] Ebert continues:

Truffaut finds a certain nobility in Adele. He quotes one of the passages in her diaries twice: She writes that she will walk across the ocean to be with her lover. He sees this, not as a declaration of love, but as a statement of a single-mindedness so total that a kind of grandeur creeps into it. Adele was mad, yes, probably—but she lived her life on such a vast and romantic scale that it's just as well Pinson never married her. He would have been a disappointment.[7]

In his review in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it a "profoundly beautiful" film that is Truffaut's "most severe, most romantic meditation upon love."[8] Canby continues:

One of the fascinations of the Truffaut career is in watching the way he circles and explores different aspects of the same subjects that dominate almost all of his films. However, The Story of Adèle H., impeccably photographed by Nestor Almendros (The Wild Child), looks and sounds like no other Truffaut film you've ever seen. ... The colors are deep, rich and often dark, and the soundtrack is full of the noises that one associates with old costume films produced by M-G-M in its great days ... More important, there is the fine background score by the late Maurice Jaubert ... The film has the manner of a romance but it's a romance from which all the conventional concerns have been eliminated. ... The Story of Adèle H. is not a psychiatric case history, though all the facts seem to be there if one wants to accept it as such. Rather it's a poet's appreciation of the terrifying depth of Adèle's feelings ... She's willful and spoiled and, the film understands, impossible to deal with. Yet the film makes us see both the madness and the grandeur of the passion. It's this ability to allow us to see a subject from several different angles simultaneously that often proves most unsettling in a Truffaut film. Toughness and compassion get all mixed up. It's also this talent that separates his films from those of all other directors who are working in the humanist tradition today. The Story of Adèle H. is a film that I suspect Jean Renoir would much admire.[8]

On the review aggregator web site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% positive rating from top film critics based on 15 reviews, and a 75% positive audience rating based on 3,601 user ratings. [9]

The Story of Adèle H. was a modest financial success in France, where it sold 752,160 tickets.[10]

Awards and nominations

  • Academy Awards (USA)
    • Nominated: Best Actress – Leading Role (Isabelle Adjani)
  • César Awards (France)
    • Nominated: Best Actress – Leading Role (Isabelle Adjani)
    • Nominated: Best Director (François Truffaut)
    • Nominated: Best Production Design (Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko)
  • New York Film Critics (USA)
    • Won: Best Actress – Leading Role (Isabelle Adjani)
    • Won: Best Screenplay (Jean Gruault, Suzanne Schiffman and François Truffaut)

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
  • TCM Movie Database
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