The Story of Adèle H. Review
1835: Victor Hugo's youngest daughter, Adèle (Isabelle Adjani), disembarks in Halifax, Nova Scotia - an outpost of the British army - seeking Sergeant Pinson (Bruce Robinson), who has been posted there. As she has had no news from him for a long time she's decided to confront him and hopefully marry him if her parents will give their consent. Not wanting to stir local attention, she assumes a new name and eventually finds Pinson but sadly her love seems to be unrequited...
Considering the amount of faux-pas Adjani has made in her time (failed pop-singer, involvement in Ishtar and Diabolique, reading out the Satanic Verses at the Césars), it is truly surprising she took this film on in the first place. Granted her acting can grate on many; some even argue that she always plays a stuck-up diva in all her films but in this case, if fits perfectly with the character of Adèle and she gives a performance with great aplomb and beauty, making it probably the best of her career.
Though I've oft found Truffaut's directing to be either stunning or rather poor, the film demonstrates mostly the former; although I'm not sure if it was Truffaut's intent, Pinson comes through as excessively bland and monodimensional, making one wonder why he is blind to Adjani's beauty and what on earth she could find in him in the first place! Well, Love is blind or so they say, and Truffaut does try and explain her obsessive nature to us (the death of her sister, the family's isolation in Guernsey) whilst developing her character quite intricately.
Stylistically, Truffaut uses some slightly annoying techniques which make the film more artificial that it need be - the most annoying of these is haivng Adèle read out loud the letter she is writing but it's obvious that unless she's scoffed industrial amounts of speed she can't write as fast as she's rabitting on. Strangely he later changes this to a voice-over which works much better. The film does however remain strong enough to survive the odd lull and given the strength of Jean Grualt's script and the lead performance, it becomes very easy to overlook most of the film's flaws.
The DVD:Given the top notch releases most of Truffaut work has been given by MK2, it may be a little harsh to expect MGM to scale the same heights given their taste for bare-bones features and that is exactly what we get.
The image:The print used is relatively clean but features a certain amount of white speckle and some enormous "cigarette burns" taking up about 20% of the image. The colours are rather somber and slightly drab and grain is at times quite apparant. The transfer is pretty much in line with most of MGM's releases - not dreadful but not exactly brilliant either. Sadly MGM haven't given us an anamorphic transfer here though the film's visual quality would have undoubtably been enhanced by it. The original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is however respected.
The sound:The original mono mix is maintained and exhibits few problems. As the film is heavily dialogue based, there's little to give your system a workout.
The subtitles: Due to the bilingual nature of the film, MGM have provided subtitles that will suit both the French audience and the UK audience but annoyingly it's impossible to turn the subtitles off completely (even with the usual workaround, they didn't). Of course, unless you're not biligual it's not really a problem but if you detest having unecessary subtitles, it's a bit of a pain. The english subs seem to be for HOH as they feel the need to underline that the language spoken is French by adding (In French). MGM really need to sort out their problems with subs as they have done this HOH trick before (Roma, The Man Who Loved Women) or ruined the first pressing of Annie Hall.
The menu: The usual basic MGM menu setup. No surprises there.
The extras:The US theatrical trailer - and pretty bad it is too, though I'd always imagine it must have been pretty hard to market Truffaut (or any Nouvelle Vague director for that matter) to an audience raised on Hollywood!
Conclusions:Of course, Truffaut's films have been getting far better releases than this in terms of image or extras but there's little to complain about here if you're solely interested in the film. As MK2 haven't yet released this in their collection, this is for the time being the only way to own the film.