Is François Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H really a great movie? Or are we misled into thinking it’s about a great subject—how willful passionate obsession earns madness—it’s got to be an equally great movie? Not convinced Isabelle Adjani is the actress to play Victor Hugo’s daughter, who drove herself into the loony bin ostensibly because of a love affair gone sour. Adjani’s more than a decade younger than the real seasoned cuckoo Adèle when she met Lieutenant Pinson; attempting to show the agitated angst presaging what’s coming, she’s hardly more than a cross of Capucine and Lesley-Anne Down as blank slate. (She also rattles off lines so fast subtitles sometimes can’t keep up.) The movie implies—and then retreats from implying—Adèle’s youthful romanticism and unrequited love of Pinson merge to foster her insanity, when in fact, and some of which is hinted at in the movie, Adèle was unstable long before: named after her mother, who endured five torturous pregnancies before throwing Victor out of bed, Adèle’s eventual descent was set not only by her physical and emotional health since birth, but also by sibling rivalries, by her father’s legendary sexual infamy (including a possible incestuous liaison with her sister Léopoldine, whose drowning helped unleash Adèle’s nightmares and delusions), his intimidating fame, his cantankerous politics (leading to exile), her need to assert independence from him while at the same time needling him. Though both a composer and writer, her most well known work—her journal—has been penned cryptically; the origins for this derangement certainly didn’t start in Nova Scotia, or Barbados. What lethal poison seeped into Adèle had the actual Pinson been a sexual athlete like her father can’t be known, but there’s no way this Pinson, played by Bruce Robinson, is catalyst to Adèle’s dementia. (He’s like a cherubic Edward Furlong.) The “voice” of Victor is suspiciously dulcet—a James Earl Jones high on French. Truffaut’s picture ends with the convenient addendum of Victor’s funeral, which was as “gargantuan” as his lust. The convenience sanctions the familiar refrain it’s all Daddy’s fault but with a demented twist: while Victor absorbed the barbs, humiliations and demands of his wandering daughter, she willed herself a madwoman to punish him as well as equal his voracity.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.