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.
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