Just like Adele refusing to believe that Albert no longer loves her in François Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H, I refuse to believe that Truffaut betrayed the principles that he outlined in his famous essay “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema”. Though based on the true story of Victor Hugo’s daughter Adele, this film initially looks like a generic period Gothic romance. A young, beautiful, but naïve girl arriving to a new place on a dark, stormy night. Check. A love seemingly torn apart due to class distinction. Check. Love turning into obsession. Check. Fabulous period costumes. Check. Haunting visions. Check. Even the way Truffaut shot the film does not look innovative. The juxtapositions of Adele tossing and turning in her bed with the image of water look trite in color. But the Truffaut lover in me wants to believe that the utter triteness of this film was Truffaut’s intention. I want to believe that he was still mocking Bost and Aurenche by creating a film that they would have written to adapt Adele Hugo’s story into an over-the-top Gothic romance novel. He even has Adele saying, “I think marriage is degrading for women.” Granted, she was lying but the line shows how those Gothic romances make marriage the ultimate goal for the heroine pathetically futile. Honestly, there were moments I felt like I was watching Wuthering Heights as Adele pathetically begs Albert to love her or marry her and eventually becomes mentally unstable because of her obsession.
However, the more I reflected on the film, the more I realized that perhaps Truffaut is making a statement about historical fiction. The term “historical fiction” is often used for books that use historical events as the prominent background to tell a story, typically a romantic one (i.e. The Other Boleyn Girl). Although the Civil War is mentioned very briefly in the beginning, it serves only as a reason for Albert and Adele to be torn apart. But what about personal history, or what we normally refer to as our autobiography? Throughout the film, we see Adele writing fiction in letters to her father and a history of her feelings in her journal. Yet, even though she may be recording the truth, she lies to herself about the reality of her situation. So, in some respects, this film is like Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad in terms of its exploration of memory and truth, so Truffaut has not completely lost touch with French New Wave’s goal of using film as an exploration of human nature not just as a means of entertainment. I might be reaching here, but like I said in the beginning, I am like Adele desperately clinging to Truffaut as the founder of the French New Wave not the director of this commercial fare.