Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Story of Adèle H

Go To

The Story of Adèle H. is a 1975 French historical drama film by François Truffaut.

It tells the story of Adèle Hugo, the beautiful but troubled daughter of the famed Victor Hugo, whose obsession with her Old Flame, English playboy Lieutenant Pinson, quickly develops from a desperate, unrequited crush to a delusional, obsessive amour fou.

Led by a winning performance from breakout star Isabelle Adjani, it is an uncompromising but sympathetic portrayal of mental illness and the rare condition of erotomania. Adjani was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the titular role.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Adèle is this to Pinson. She might be extremely beautiful, passionate, and romantic, but her obsession and possessiveness after he has repeatedly turned her down rightfully repulses him.
  • Age Lift: The real Adèle Hugo's misguided obsession occurred in her early thirties, and she was past forty when she finally was able to leave Barbados and go home. In the film, she is played by the obviously young Isabelle Adjani, who was only twenty at the time, though the events still take place in 1863.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Adèle starts out the film as a beautiful and well-dressed woman, but by the end she is wandering the streets in torn clothes with unkempt hair while wearing her glasses.
  • Blatant Lies: Adèle constantly lies, especially about her relationship with Pinson. As the film goes on, the line between her conscious lies and outright delusions blurs considerably.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Adèle is haunted by terrifying nightmares of her older sister drowning, which lead to this.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Zig-zagged. Adèle has no problem with gifting Pinson a prostitute in the hopes that it will please him, but she's so outraged by the thought of him dating another woman that she storms the house of the other young woman and lies to her father, claiming that Pinson had married her, impregnated her, and abandoned her.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The real Adèle Hugo began following Pinson in 1863 and was unable to return to France until 1872. The film portrays this obsession happening over the course of only a year, with Adèle following him to Barbados in 1864 instead of 1866 and is rescued not long afterwards.
  • Downer Ending: Adèle's mind deteriorates so far that she no longer recognizes Pinson. She wanders the streets of Barbados destitute and insane until a former slave takes pity on her and manages to get her back home to her father; but by then, her ill mother has already died without her having seen her again, and Adèle herself can hardly communicate with others. The film ends with the note that Adèle was the only child of Victor Hugo to outlive him, and she lived in a sanitarium for decades until her death in 1915, which was overshadowed by World War I.
    • Even more depressing in real life: Adèle was in Barbados with Pinson for three years, but he completely abandoned her in 1869, leaving her to founder there for three more years while she was unable to and unwell enough to leave Barbados herself or contact her father. In the film, she is not there for long before she's rescued by a kindly local.
  • Gift-Giving Gaffe: The bookseller thinks that he will please Adèle when he gives her an edition of Les Misérables, a book written by her father. Instead, she throws a tantrum because she did not want that her real identity was revealed.
  • The Ghost: Victor Hugo is the most famous figure involved in the story, but he's only heard of through letters. This was a necessity, as descendent Jean Hugo allowed the film to be made on the condition that Victor not be shown.
  • Lovely Assistant: The Stage Magician pretends to hypnotize his Asian assistant.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Downplayed. Adèle would have been schizophrenic regardless of whether or not she fixated on Pinson, but her condition deteriorates further every time he rejects her.
  • More Hypnotizable Than He Thinks: Adèle becomes intrigued by a hypnotist after she watches him easily subjugate a heckler who doubted his powers. Subverted when she later discovers that the man was an actor, and the hypnotist is a fraud.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Adèle frequently dreams that she is drowning like her elder sister.
  • Old Flame: Adèle and Pinson actually used to be in a relationship, but she turned him down after he proposed marriage. Though he moved on, she came to regret her decision and began following him around in a bid to win him back.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Adèle tries to make Pinson jealous by claiming that an Italian poet is in love with her. It was always doomed to fail considering she's Pinson's Abhorrent Admirer, and indeed he laughs and tells her to marry the other guy.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Adèle's alias while in Halifax is Adèle Lewly and she changes nothing else about herself. The only reason the boarders are slow to discover her identity is that they simply don't know who Victor Hugo is; she's found out pretty quickly by a curious bookseller.
  • Pillow Pregnancy: Adèle tries to trap Pinson by claiming that she is pregnant with his child, an outrageous lie considering they haven't had a physical relationship. After ruining his current relationship by claiming he impregnated and abandoned her by using a pillow stuffed underneath her dress, she confronts him; but when he remains unamused, she takes it out and throws it on the ground, leading him to call her ridiculous.
  • The Runaway: The mentally ill and delusional Adèle travels around on her own in order to follow Pinson, worrying her parents, who repeatedly try to get her to come home with no success. Adèle's mother dies of illness without seeing her again. Then Adèle travels to Barbados, where her father is unable to discover her whereabouts or wire her money, leaving her destitute.
  • Sanity Slippage: Adèle was never completely sane, but it's hard to watch her go from a confused and deluded, but still elegant and romantic girl, to a dazed and destitute madwoman wandering the streets and talking to herself. By the end of the film, she doesn't even recognize Pinson, "the love of her life," anymore.
  • Shoutout: The bookseller gives to Adèle an edition of Les Misérables, a book written by her father.
  • Spooky Séance: Adèle has one in her room to try to communicate with her deceased sister Léopoldine.
  • Stage Magician: A stage magician does a show in Halifax. He pretend to hypnotize his Lovely Assistant and an audience member (who is actually his partner).
  • Stalker with a Crush: Adèle follows Pinson everywhere he goes and desperately tries to get him to love her back, which includes ruining things for him when he gets engaged to another woman.
  • The Unfavorite: Adèle feels like this compared to her older sister Leopoldine, who tragically drowned together with her husband at the age of nineteen. It doesn't help that her parents kept her wedding dress on display in their house like a relic.
  • Unknown Rival: Adèle is this to Pinson's fiancee.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Possibly, mixed with Very Loosely Based on a True Story. Many events of the film can be corroborated, but as the narrative is based off of the mentally ill Adèle's diary entries, it's uncertain how much of the film actually happened.
  • Unrequited Love: Adèle is smitten with Pinson, a family friend whose proposal she once rejected, but he is annoyed and frustrated by the fact that she won't leave him alone. On a lesser note, the bookseller seems interested in Adèle, but she's too fixated on Pinson to notice or care.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The epilogue tells briefly what happened to Adèle and her father after she came back to France.