Why did François Truffaut cast a teenaged actress in L’histoire d’Adèle H. when the real Adèle Hugo was 33 at the time—1863—when this poignant, beauteous film is set? This was in the period of her family’s exile in Guernsey owing to her father’s opposition to dictator Louis Napoléon. Adèle’s father was the great poet, novelist and human rights activist Victor Hugo. To answer my own question about the age discrepancy: (1) to underscore the degree to which Adèle, in everything that she does, including romantically pursuing her British soldier, Lieutenant Albert Pinson, is grappling with her father’s immense shadow and overwhelming stature; (2) to stress also her protractedly adolescent impulsiveness; and (3) to puncture the authority of Adèle’s perceptions and utterances, for instance, as recorded in her journals. Adèle’s father rejected Pinson as a suitable suitor for his daughter, in part, one presumes, because Britain at the time was contemplating joining with the South militarily in the American Civil War. Still, it must have been a terrible irony for Adèle that her father, whose name was synonymous with liberty throughout the world, thus kept her romantic aspirations on a short leash.
By degrees Adèle leaves the familiar world. She has come to Halifax, in the New World, to reunite with Pinson, who no longer loves her. She disintegrates into madness, ending up drawing concern in Barbados, in the Third World (where she fails to recognize her beloved when she passes him on the street), before she is returned to the Old World, where she is confined to an insane asylum. We see her eternally young, superimposed on ocean, expressing in voiceover all her hopes and great expectations.
Isabelle Adjani is striking as Adèle; future writer-director Bruce Robinson, superb as Pinson.
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