Adele H Shoots the Piano Player Subtly
The Story of Adele H. (1975) is a beautiful, captivating and surprisingly lyrical film, given its sad subject matter.
In the character of Adele H, Francois Truffaut has found a story that deals with four recurring themes: unrequited love, alienation (and Hitchcock’s two great themes), obsession and pursuit. And better than ever before Truffaut uses the tools that Hitchcock used for more bland pursuits (To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest and Rear Window) to illustrate, but more delicately than in his earlier films, suffocation, rejection and fear of rejection (like Notorious, Vertigo and Marnie).
Adele H, the film reveals, in a brilliant scene after the doctor has visited her, is Adèle Hugo. The kindly lady who runs the house asks the doctor if they should let her know that they know who she is. He thinks not. What they now know is that this Adèle, is the youngest daughter of one of France’s greatest writers, Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables.
The Real Story
Adèle is so desperate to marry a lieutenant in the British army she travels from Guernsey to Nova Scotia, sneaking in without any papers – more by luck than design. She hires someone to track him down and then finds boarding with a local family near where he is stationed.
The background to the story is that in the America civil war, the South asked for help from the British in their fight against the Yankees.
The British landed troops in Nova Scotia, Canada, just north of the United States, on standby. Albert Pinson was stationed there and somehow she found and followed him there in 1863. This was around seven years after their brief romance and his proposal, which her father rejected, forbidding the marriage.
A great deal of the film concerns Adele writing letters to her family asking for money – her allowance; asking for approval to marry Pinson; and then trying to convince the poor man that her father had now agreed to the marriage. As much as Pinson was an incorrigible womaniser, a scoundrel and a complete and utter bastard, the pursuit by Adele was very intense. When he was relocated from Halifax to Barbados in 1866 she found a way to follow him there. When he left Barbados, history indicates she was left there, in poor mental health, wandering around, talking to herself.