Truffaut likes troubled women. From Jeanne Moreau’s character in Jules and Jim to Catherine Deneuve in Mississippi Mermaid, Truffaut’s films are littered with sexually and mentally frustrated women. When I usually say this, I am deriding the male chauvinist pig director that portrays women only as crazy freaks. However I am not doing this here for one reason: although Truffaut likes his troubled women, he treats them with respect and empathy. I know that I lambasted Mississippi Mermaid and especially Catherine Deneuve’s character, but I think it was one misstep in a career full of right choices. This film could be seen from one perspective as just a period piece about one woman being misunderstood. We see that again and again in period films and it is a shallow place to go to. But I think that because Truffaut brings his respect and fascination with this character that he brought to a similar film, Wild Child, the film goes beyond just a woman being misunderstood and into why she is misunderstood and/or crazy.
The Story of Adele H. is based on the diaries of Victor Hugo’s youngest daughter. While living in exile with her father, Adele falls in love with a solider that sees her as just another conquest. He proposes marriage, but was never serious about it. However Adele is very serious and when the solider is re-stationed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, she follows him there. She entreats him again and again to love her and marry her, but he treats her like something he has just thrown on the burn pile. She goes slowly insane and starts to believe that her life and her diary is a part of a great romance that will live for ages. She writes everything down in a flowery code. Ream after ream she writes her thoughts on this romance and her need for human contact that she does not receive from this man. Meanwhile the man courts every rich young woman in town and takes advantage of Adele’s affection to get money out of her. Seeing her more and more as a burden (at one point she goes to the father of one of the women he is courting and tells him that she is pregnant with his baby and they have been engaged for some time), the solider is desperate to be relocated again. He gets the relocation, this time to Barbados, but there she is again, a forlorn crazy young woman wandering the marketplace in tattered clothing and a vacant look. She is taken into a hospital and nursed back to health only to be found out that this is Victor Hugo’s daughter.
The study of insanity is given a warm place to live in this film. Shot beautifully in the stark climate of Halifax, the film feels like a soft cushion for Adele to land on. The people that surround her are willing to help her situation and yet she is so blind to anyone, including the bookkeeper where she gets her paper at who is obviously in love with her, that isn’t this solider that she has idealized in her journals and in her mind that she pushes them all away. You see this all of the time with obsessive personalities and that could quite possibly be what Adele is suffering with but it is nice to see the situation not analyzed in a professional and cold way. Truffaut obviously cares very deeply for her and identifies with her. It is nice to see. I would recommend this film if you are interested in watching the fall of a woman into madness, but also if you wanted to see Truffaut evolve into a more sensitive director.