My current Top 5

My current Top 5

9/18/2011

Best Actress 1975: Isabelle Adjani in "L'Histoire d'Adèle H."

With awards from the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review and the National Society of Film Critics, Isabelle Adjani was the kind of critical favorite that seems destined to lose the Oscar in the end because of various circumstances – her movie was too small and too foreign and Louise Fletcher was right there with a strong and dominant performance in the Academy’s favorite motion picture of the year (but it should also be noted that Isabelle Adjani not only lost the Oscar but also the César, so there was quite a lot of diversity in the race that year). 1975 is certainly an interesting year for this category as it is usually considered to be one of the weakest in the Academy’s history and the fact that that a borderline supporting role, a foreign performance, another borderline supporting role in an over-the-top musical and two extremely unseen performances in small movies made the cut this year certainly seems to indicate that Academy members had to look in every direction to find five suitable nominees. But does this automatically mean that it was a weak year? Louise Fletcher as cold-eyed Nurse Ratched certainly added a huge amount of quality to the race that year and another celebrated performance like that of Isabelle Adjani also seems to indicate that that was actually a much stronger year than usually given credit.

It’s easy to see why Isabelle Adjani was such a darling of the award-giving critics that year – hers is a very emotional but also intellectual performance, she carries her movie with ease and self-assurance despite her youth and quite simply had a very showy role which she mastered with stunning dedication. L'Histoire d'Adèle H. tells the story of real-life Adèle Hugo, the daughter of the famous writer Victor Hugo, who suffered from obsessive and unrequited love for a naval officer. Because of this, her story is a constant display of humiliation and self-destruction, a slow process of coming closer and closer to the edge of insanity. Adèle Hugo has caught herself in a trap in which she denies reality while handling this reality with a stunning ease – she understands that her obsessions are not real but she is dominated by them at the same time. All this provided Isabelle Adjani with a carefully constructed character that demanded a performance that both inhabits the passionate and sexual spirit that is lusting after the officer but also an intellectual and thoughtful core which helps Adèle to cope with most situations and always adjust herself to new circumstances – and her performance combined all these tasks with a stunning and almost exhausting realism that is as painful to watch as it is fascinating. Isabelle Adjani possesses an almost magnetic screen-presence and has an undeniable talent for bringing these kinds of characters to life – even at the age of 20 and this way her performance became the complete center of L'Histoire d'Adèle H. and turned a rather ordinary movie into a mesmerizing character study.

Like Louise Fletcher in One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Isabelle Adjani succeeded in the most difficult but also most important aspect of her character – the determination to follow a single idea, to emphasize the limitations of the character and fill these limitations with a fascinating and captivating performance that actually even benefits from the narrow range of the character instead of suffering from it. Louise Fletcher turned Nurse Ratched into a never-ending mystery and never gave an answer to her actions and intentions – and Isabelle Adjani did the same with Adèle Hugo. Of course, both performances come from completely different ends of the acting spectrum – Louise Fletcher underplayed her role to the point of almost being completely emotionless while Isabelle Adjani gave a very emotional and lyrical performance but both actresses understood that their characters are driven by single desires that remain unexplained and both carefully constructed these mysteries as part of their overall performances. The reasons for Adèle’s obsession, for her aggressive love are never explained and thanks to Isabelle Adjani’s performance, there are no reasons for this – her work always speaks for itself and even though she may not fully explain Adèle, she still makes her understandable in her incomprehensible actions and thoughts. She shows that Adèle does not live in her own world – she knows that Albert does not love her, she knows that she is not married to him and that she is following a lost cause but she still proceeds her actions and doings with firm dedication. She follows him under false names, invents one lie after another and does everything to get close to him but once she finally sees him again after a long time she cannot do anything else but put her hand to her mouth, unable to talk, stunned by his presence in front of her. Isabelle Adjani made the wonderful and startling decision to avoid any emotional over-acting in a part that usually screams for it – instead, her work feels very subtle and almost down-to-earth despite its almost dreamlike quality. When she talks to Albert about impossible suggestions, she does it with a performance that remains calm and quiet even when Adèle is loud and emotional. There always seems to appear a greater logic behind Adèle’s intentions that maybe cannot be grasped rationally but helps Isabelle Adjani to add much more depth and dimension to her character than other actresses might have done. When she tells the father of Albert’s fiancée that he is actually married to her, she again talks with this conviction and clarity which shows that Adèle is much more aware of her own doings than others might think. Overall, Isabelle Adjani achieved the admirable task of taking a calculated and intellectual approach to a very emotional and passionate character which helped her to give a performance that seems to escape rational understanding while never distancing itself from it. Isabelle Adjani makes it very clear that Adèle is very much ‘in control’ of her own situation – but only as long as she actually has control. During her scenes with Albert, her acting becomes much more alive and hectic, presenting the desperateness and neediness of Adèle and her inability to connect with Albert the way she would like to. And also in various other moments, she shows how thin the aura of self-assurance around Adèle is – when a man in a bookstore gives her a book from her father or she is told of Albert’s behavior at a party, she also retreats into a more vulnerable and delicate part of her character which cannot handle reality as it is and fights these impressions with anger or tears. Here, Isabelle Adjani again demonstrates how much Adèle is able to understand reality around her, how she is actually able to deal with it but only in her own way and how she always gets lost when she cannot decide the terms of the situation. Her obsession for her love but also her own influence goes so far that she even sends a prostitute to Albert, only to make him happy and control his behavior in a way she can accept.

Isabelle Adjani gives a performance that gives her almost endless opportunities to display a wide range of emotional states which she all handles with beautiful and shocking dedication – the way she reads the letters to her father, with a decisive voice that constantly repels any suggestions, how she remembers the death of her sister, talks to Albert late at night or constantly re-thinks her options is a tour-de-force that overwhelms with its open and clear presentation of such a deep, withdrawn and troubled woman. It’s also a tour-de-force that was handed to Isabelle Adjani on a silver plate – Adèle is the kind of character that must be a dream for any actress since it allows such a variety of emotions but Isabelle Adjani must always be recommended for choosing such a controlled characterization which never went overboard in its display of insanity and obsession. She shows how unstable Adèle is inside but how she found a way to handle this instability until it all becomes too much for her – but even in the end, when Adèle truly begins to lose her mind and becomes a shadow of herself, walking through the streets of a strange city, almost unconscious, not noticing anything around her, she never exaggerates these moments but always stays true to her own interpretation and also the tone of the movie which never tries to gain either sympathy for its main character nor glorify her obsession – both the movie and Isabelle Adjani present Adèle’s journey as a slow downfall which cannot be stopped since Adèle herself seems to see this path right from the beginning, unable to change her fate since her obsession does not allow her anything else.

Despite her youth, Isabelle Adjani gave a brilliant and haunting performance that stands as one of the most memorable and effective displays of human downfall ever presented. She kept herself in perfect control over every aspect of Adèle’s character while giving a performance that always feels like a stream, slowly going along, changing directions and tempo without truly changing its nature. She never tried to hide the limitations of her role but instead presented Adèle’s constant lies, her almost rational way of inventing stories, her growing obsession and loss of stability as a thrilling journey which she presents with a subtle and provoking performance that is much more effective than any over-the-top-acting could have ever been. She beautifully understood the thoughts and ideas of her character and turned her into a fascinating enigma. For this, she gets

5 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I agree! Totally devastating performance.

dinasztie said...

She's ASTONISHING! I hope she wins. An easy win for me.

mrripley said...

Wins in a walk,i feel only ann makes the year weak,the performances are fine,i have known weaker years esp 1989,1994,2003,2009 which for me is one of the worst ever.

Anonymous said...

Amazing, perfect performance, I don't understand why you gave it a 4,5 since in the review it seems like you really liked her and it actually reminded me of your review of Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves which is your number 1 at the moment. I give her 5 easily!

Fritz said...

Well, it's a strong 4,5 (just like Fletcher) but both did not quite make it to a perfect 5. I am rather careful about who gets a 5 from me and Adjani needed just a little bit more to get that. Of course, it's all just personal opinion.