Twilight Time Zone #8
 

By Bobby Morgan, Andrew Bemis, & Scott MacDonald

 

 

Mississippi Burning

Director-Alan Parker

Cast-Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

Reviewer-Bobby Morgan

Date-6/29/2015

 

I've seen Mississippi Burning several times before. It's one of the most intense dramas the 1980's produced, one of Orion Pictures' biggest critical and commercial successes from the studio's pre-bankruptcy glory days, and to this stands as one of the most provocative cinematic documentations of the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, when America was preparing to go to war with itself. Again. I watched it recently for the first time in a few brief years, only this time my viewing was haunted by the horrible murders of black men and women at the hands of trigger-happy cops and racist right-wing terrorists in Ferguson, Cleveland, and Charleston, to name but a few.

 

Times haven't changed much since three civil rights workers were murdered by police and members of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Of course we now have a black president running the country and doing a pretty swell job of it, even as he has had to overcome unprecedented hurtles set out for him by far-right politicians, media, and their bigoted supporters (who by the way mostly believe him to be a tyrant and dictator who has declared war on white people and Christians). However, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and the nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. in recent years tell a much different story. Five decades ago, racism was the order of things in America. This is 2015 and racism is still very much alive and well in this country, except the most prominent racists are rushing to declare it a thing of the past simply because they know their way of life is coming to an end and can't accept it.

 

The 1960's was an amazing decade for the U.S. It was also a dark and turbulent time marked by violence in our streets and generations of young men being shipped off to fight and die in Vietnam. Mississippi Burning aims to tell the story of one of the most troubling episodes of that explosive era, but it buries the fascinating facts regarding the murder of the civil rights workers and the subsequent federal investigation and trial that followed in a thick veneer of fictionalized melodrama concocted by screenwriter Chris Gerolmo (Citizen X) and brought to life visually by master British filmmaker Alan Parker (Birdy). The true story provides the skeleton of the narrative that Gerolmo's screenplay fleshes out with characters that didn't exist and events that never happened.

 

Soon after the three young men go missing while trying to marshal black citizens to the voting booths in rural Jessup County, Mississippi, F.B.I. agents Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) arrive to investigate what they suspect is a triple homicide. The two agents are polar opposites: Anderson, a former sheriff of a backwoods Southern town not unlike Jessup, prefers to ingratiate himself among the locals and gain their trust, but his straight-laced superior Ward would rather use his considerable authority to make their presence and get immediate results. Naturally they clash right from the start, and the hostility they receive from the town sheriff Stuckey (Gailard Sartain), his unpleasant deputy Pell (Brad Dourif), and an ineffectual mayor (R. Lee Ermey) who just wants the entire matter to go away.

 

The white population of Jessup is divided between those who think the investigation is a trumped-up hoax having something to do with that "Communist" Martin Luther King Jr., and those who know the civil rights workers are dead but pretty much had it coming to them. The black population has been beaten and intimidated into silent compliance, and when Anderson and Ward attempt to question a few of them, Jessup's resident KKK scumbags Frank Bailey (Michael Rooker) and Lester Cowens (Pruitt Taylor Vince) spring into action to pound them mercilessly into submission and set their homes and churches ablaze. Ward's response is to bring in more agents and even employ the services of a bunch of reservists from the military, to aid in the search. Anderson chooses to get closer to Pell's sympathetic wife (Frances McDormand) because he senses that the deputy's missus holds information crucial to the investigation within her battered mind.

 

As a film, Mississippi Burning is a harrowing thriller that has intensity and drama oozing from every pore. But when it comes to its status as a document of the events that inspired the film, it doesn't take much scrutiny to bring its narrative crashing down. It's history written with a heavy black magic market instead of lightning. Parker and Gerolmo decided to play a game of Mad Libs with the people and incidents at the center of the real investigation, sometimes making stuff up as they go along. All in the name of dramatic license, I'm sure, but that's no excuse for literally whitewashing the truth.

 

Mississippi Burning succeeds only as a suspenseful drama, but few of the characters are two-dimensional and the rest are either cartoons or non-existent. The film's white characters fall into the former category, the black characters in the latter. There are moments when certain individuals from both sides of Jessup's racial divide are allowed moments of humanity, but they exist only to service the central mystery. Speaking of which, that mystery is one we already know the outcome of as it is based in history and we are shown the events that kick the investigation into happening in the film's opening moments. It might have worked better had the actual shootings of the three men been carefully revealed throughout the story as Ward and Anderson proceed with their case. This would have also allowed for the murderers to have their identities concealed as to create genuine suspense. Instead, we are given that critical information upfront and all we can do is wait for the killers to be caught. Had the story been told from their perspective rather than the two F.B.I. agents, that would have generated tension and possibly resulted in a much better film.

 

Parker's direction is superb and rarely flags in pacing. The screenplay crackles with witty dialogue and packs a cast full of noble but flawed heroes and perfectly despicable villains. Hackman and Dafoe each deliver performances that could be counted among the best of their respective careers and their antagonistic chemistry feels natural while bringing out the best qualities in each actor. McDormand hits all of the right emotional notes as the besieged housewife who can no longer remain silent in the face of the injustice she witnesses almost on a daily basis. Parker assembled a Murderers' Row of brilliant character actors to play the bigoted psychopaths Ward and Anderson are looking to take down, with Rooker making a terrific monster, an unsmiling cobra in the form of the worst example of humanity. The usually gentle Sartain, a familiar face from Jim Varney's Ernest movies, sleazes his way through the film with dastardly aplomb.

 

But it's the always reliable Dourif who totally nails his role as the vilest individual in Jessup County, a honest piece of subhuman excrement you can't wait to get his just desserts. A year after his breakthrough performance as the thundering Marine drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, Ermey dials down the bombast as the town's mayor who is happier to look the other way while innocent people are being slaughtered on his watch rather than stand up to true American evil. The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out with excellent turns of varying length from such acting stalwarts as Stephen Tobolowsky, Kevin Dunn, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Badja Djola, Park Overall, and Tobin Bell. Darius McCrary (Transformers) impresses in a early performance as a local kid who comes forward to help the agents with their investigation after his family is dragged into the crossfire, while Frankie Faison (The Wire) gets to deliver a haunting eulogy for the three dead men that encapsulates the anger and sadness of countless generations of black Americans who were denied civil and human rights by a nation of oppressors. That's right, I said "nation". Debate me. I dare you.

 

The cinematography by the great Peter Biziou, whose work has graced such classics as Monty Python's Life of Brian and The Truman Show, looks better than it ever has in Twilight Time's 1080p high-definition transfer of Mississippi Burning, which comes framed in the film's correct 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is absolutely astounding when compared to previous home video presentations. Grain is kept to a minimum, colors are muted but strong and natural, and fine picture details look sharp without appearing to have underwent excessive digital noise reduction. The only audio option supplied is a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack and it's fantastic, with clear and audible dialogue and great space and volume given to the slightly anachronistic music score composed by the great Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Runaway Train), but not at the expense of the other crucial elements of the hearty sound mix. Damage and distortion are virtually nowhere to be found, but if there is any trace of either left over they are pretty hard to locate. English subtitles have also been provided.

 

An informative commentary with director Parker that was originally recorded for MGM's 2001 Region 1 DVD has been ported over for Twilight Time's Blu-ray and it's worth a single listen, though it does occasionally suffer from stretches of silence. Jones' score is also given an isolated DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The original theatrical trailer and a booklet of liner notes featuring the always welcome critical and historical insight of Julie Kirgo wrap up the slim supplements offering. Plus as usual, the cover art created by Twilight Time is gorgeous and provocative. If only more video companies would follow their lead in how they design their DVD and Blu-ray covers rather than resort to piss-poor Photoshop jobs.

 

The Film: 3/5

Audio/Video: 4/5

Extras: 2/5

Overall: 3/5

________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Richard III

Director-Richard Loncraine

Cast-Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr.

Country of Origin: U.K.

Discs-1

 

"All the world's a stage," William Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, "and all the men and women merely players." His plays have inspired some of the greatest productions the theater has seen since the dawn of its existence, and the Bard's worldly words still have the power to dominate the silver screen a few times every decade.

 

In 1995, the year before Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet brought Shakespeare howling into the 90's on a maddening meth binge, British television and film director Richard Loncraine (Brimstone and Treacle) teamed with Ian McKellen, one of the century's greatest Shakespearean actors, to make a feature based on a stage production of Richard III that McKellen had conceived of with director Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) at the Royal National Theater. Many Richards were ironically involved in the creation of this fascinating, semi-contemporary take on one of Shakespeare's greatest monsters, his corpse-strewn rise to power, and his violent fall from the throne.

 

McKellen, who also co-wrote the screen adaptation with Loncraine, takes generous liberties with the Bard's prose in reimagining Richard III as a fascist warmonger in 1930's England, but retains the core concept and most of the dialogue. Richard is still plotting to take the crown from the vulnerable King Edward IV (John Wood) with the help of the Duke of Buckingham (Jim Broadbent) and several other high level conspirators. Part of the plan involves having his brother George, the Duke of Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne), murdered, and then wooing Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas). Only a few individuals like Queen Elizabeth (Annette Bening) are able to peer through Richard's reptilian charm and glimpse the twisted machinery of his soul that propels his lust for power.

 

This Richard III is one to be enjoyed by Shakespeare aficionados and lovers of smashingly entertaining cinema alike. Since the play was always lacking in historical accuracy, Loncraine and McKellen's decision to move the setting to early 20th century England doesn't appear that much of a stretch. Shakespeare's devastating allegory of the corrupting influence of absolute power benefits greatly from this canny creative gambit as it allows for Richard's corpse-littered rise to the throne to make even more sense. It also permitted Loncraine to make effective use of several iconic locations around England, such as the Battersea and Bankside Power Stations and the St. Pancras Railway Station, without creating the need for additional set dressing (no doubt saving the production a lot of money). Production designer Tony Burrough (A Knight's Tale) does to indulge in the Art Deco style that influenced much of the famous architecture of the time.

 

McKellen is perfect as the utterly loathesome Richard, devilish cunning cleverly concealed by a pleasing charisma, and he sinks his teeth into the Bard's words like a panther fiending for a warm meal. His is ably supported by Broadbent, Hawthorne, Thomas, and The Wire's Dominic West as Earl of Richmond. Bening provides the story with one of its few genuinely sympathetic characters, and although her lack of a British accent is distracting, her performance would have suffered had she tried one on for size. The same can be applied to Robert Downey Jr., who, despite his prominent place in the film's advertising materials, has precious little screen time.

 

Twilight Time presents Richard III in a splendid AVC-encoded 1080p high-definition transfer, framed in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The cinematography by Peter Biziou (The Truman Show) looks great after all these years, with strong colors and sharpened details that make the settings vibrate with life and character. Minor defects persist, but never become a distraction. The swirling cocktail of a soundtrack that puts a thunderous Trevor Jones score in a blender with some lush, period-appropriate tunes (including a beautiful use of Al Jolson's "I'm Sittin' On Top of the World" in the harrowing finale) is served well by the inclusion of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that manages to bring the full power of the original theatrical DTS/Dolby Digital sound mix to home video without any permanent damage. The soundtrack also gets an isolate audio track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. English subtitles have been provided. The only extra feature is the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo's customary booklet of informative liner notes and critical perspective is also included.

 

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 4/5

Extras: 1/5

Overall: 3/5

________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

The Fantasticks

Director - Michael Ritchie

Cast - Joel Grey, Jean Louisa Kelly, Joe McIntyre

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 1

Reviewer - Andrew Bemis

 

 The Fantasticks, Michael Ritchie’s adaptation of the off-Broadway musical that has the distinction of being the longest-running show in U.S. history (42 years), had a famously troubled journey to the big screen. Completed in 1995, the film would have gone straight-to-video after a tepid reaction at test screenings if it wasn’t for a clause in director Michael Ritchie and show writers Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s contracts stipulating that the movie receive a theatrical release. Instead, distributor MGM/UA shelved the movie for five years, until a shorter version of the movie (recut by MGM’s then-board member Francis Ford Coppola) premiered on a handful of screens and quickly disappeared. It’s the kind of backstory that made me wonder, before checking out Twilight Time’s Blu-ray, if The Fantasticks would turn out to be a justly ignored dud or an underappreciated film maudit. The truth is somewhere in the middle, though closer to the latter: it’s a charming little musical that probably never had a chance of becoming a big hit but has enough interesting qualities and good cheer to deserve a better chance at finding its audience.

 

 The story is unusually intimate for a musical, focusing on two neighboring families living in a remote corner of the American West in the 1920s. The two patriarchs, Amos and Ben, (Joel Grey and Brad Sullivan), both farmers and widowers, scheme to get Amos’ daughter Luisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Ben’s son Matt (Joe McIntyre) to fall in love by pretending to be enemies. When a travelling carnival comes to town, Amos and Ben hire the carnival’s troupe, led by the charming El Gallo (Jonathon Morris), to stage Luisa’s abduction, giving Matt a chance to play the dashing hero. The plan works, and all seems well for the young lovers - however, this is only the end of the first act.

 

 What makes The Fantasticks most unique is its surprisingly mature perspective on romance. On one of the audio commentaries on the disc, journalist Chris Willman (who covered the production of the film and its long journey to a theatrical release) compares The Fantasticks to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Into the Woods, two other musicals where idealized notions of love are tested against the complexities of adult life. It’s a surprisingly apt comparison, and while The Fantasticks is a gentler take on this kind of story, it works best when it’s at its most bittersweet.

 

 In bringing The Fantasticks to the screen, Ritchie made the inspired choice of framing the small cast of characters against stunning widescreen panoramas of the movie’s Arizona locations. The effect is often poignant, as the problems of these two families playing against such a giant backdrop underscores their universality. The cast is charming all around, particularly Grey and Sullivan as the two well-meaning, meddling dads, and a brief waltz between Grey and Kelly is especially touching. If there’s a problem with Ritchie’s approach, it’s that translating many of the show’s Our Town-inspired minimalist theatrical devices inevitably makes the proceedings feel slight. What surely played as magical in a small off-Broadway theatre can’t help but sometimes come off as chintzy on this scale; I appreciated Ritchie’s fidelity to the spirit of the musical, but something seems lost in translation. Still, it’s a charmingly peculiar little film - add one star to my rating if you’re a fan of the show, and add two if you’re my Nana.

 

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is a gorgeous presentation of an unjustly neglected film. It’s a bright, colorful transfer with strong detail and contrast that highlights Fred Murphy’s gorgeous widescreen cinematography, particularly in the exterior scenes. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is a robust presentation of Jones and Schmidt’s popular song score that allows one to really appreciate Ritchie’s decision to have the actors perform most of the songs live during shooting. Extras include an archival commentary by Ritchie (who passed away in 2001), which features a great deal of insight into the choices he made in adapting what was, for him, a longtime passion project; a second featuring Kelly and “Broadway Authority” Bruce Kimmel; and a third with Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Willman, who offers a lot of insight into the production history and the movie’s themes. As always with Twilight Time, an isolated score track is included, as well as liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

 

 

The most exciting special feature for fans is surely Ritchie’s original cut of the film, which is clearly the stronger version of the movie. The two most drastic differences are the inclusion of “Try to Remember” at the beginning of the film, as with the play, and the restoration of a deleted number, “Plant a Radish,” that might be my favorite in the movie. Unfortunately, according to MGM, a high-definition transfer of the longer cut doesn’t exist, hence Twilight Time’s inclusion of it as a special feature. For fans of The Fantasticks, however, it should still be a treat to have this cut in its original aspect ratio.

 

The Film (Theatrical: 3/5, Original: 3.5/5)

Audio/Video: 4.5/5

Extras: 4/5

 

________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

To Sir, with Love

Director - James Clavell

Cast - Sidney Potier, Judy Geeson, Lulu

Country of Origin - U.K.

Discs - 1

Reviewer - Andrew Bemis

 

   To Sir, with Love is one of the first of an enduring subgenre, the classroom drama where an idealistic young teacher gradually wins the respect of and ultimately inspires his class of troubled young adults. While the story is as conventional as in any of the movies it inspired, what makes To Sir, with Love special can be summarized in two words: Sidney Poitier. As Mark Thackeray, an unemployed engineer starting a new teaching position at a secondary school in London’s East End as the movie begins, Poitier is fascinating to watch throughout. Even if the progression from the novice teacher nearly defeated by his troublemaking students to a mentor who changes their lives is familiar from countless other movies, Poitier makes every step in Thackeray’s journey feel believable and completely earned.

 

   In Mark Harris’ book Pictures at a Revolution - about 1967’s five Best Picture nominees, two of which (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night) co-starred Poitier - Harris writes about how Poitier, an Oscar winner and one of the biggest box-office draws of the ‘60s, was limited by roles that were palatable to white audiences. Virgil Tibbs would change all that, but Mark Thackeray certainly fits the mold - he’s an intelligent, self-determined man whose own impoverished upbringing makes him a role model for his lower-class students. Poitier is only allowed one scene where he’s allowed to show real anger, after the kids pull a crude practical joke; when Thackeray exclaims that he promised himself he’d never lose his temper, it’s hard not to think about the pressure Poitier must have felt to live up to such narrow expectations.

 

Within those parameters, though, he smartly plays Thackeray as a man making the best of his situation. In the early scenes where the teens antagonize him with childish passive-aggressive behavior, we can see the barely suppressed anger in his eyes. When Thackeray does take control of the class, making the decision to treat them like the adults they’ll soon be, it works because Poitier has the gift to let us see, very subtly, how the character gains confidence as he goes. Writer/director James Clavell’s screenplay doesn’t ignore the racial tensions inherent in the story of a black teacher and his mostly white students, and its treatment of the subject surprisingly nuanced for its time. While the movie can only hint at a possible romance between Thackeray and a sympathetic fellow teacher played by Suzy Kendall, a subplot involving Judy Geeson’s character, who has a crush on her teacher, becomes an opportunity to show the young woman’s growing consciousness of a bigger world.

 

   The movie’s slang, fashions and music are very much a product of their period, but otherwise, To Sir, with Love proves to be a pretty timeless story. It never overplays its hand by trying to elevate Thackeray to sainthood, as later movies about teachers do. Instead, it’s content to be a simple, earnest and surprisingly effective tribute to the effect a good teacher can have in his students’ lives. That might sound sickeningly wholesome, and it might have been, but it’s far more entertaining than I remembered or expected.

  

   Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray of To Sir, with Love looks and sounds terrific. I’ve read other reviews that have complained about the graininess of the transfer, but I found it pleasantly film-like (I almost always prefer grain-heavy transfers to those that are digitally scrubbed to artificial perfection). The DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack is clear throughout, with the movie’s score (including the maddeningly catchy title song by Lulu) available on an isolated track. The disc also has a surprising amount of special features for an older title, including interviews with producer Marty Baum and Lulu, a 15-minute featurette on London’s youth culture at the time, and an interview with teacher and author Salome Thomas El, who relates the movie to his own experiences as a teacher at inner city schools.

 

The most interesting featurette is an interview with E.L. Braithwaite, the author of the semi-autobiographical novel that provided the basis for the movie; Braithwaite goes into detail about how the movie differs from his own experiences. Braithwaite and El also contribute separately to one of the two audio commentaries, placing the movie’s themes in a broader real-world context. The second features Judy Geeson and Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo - the latter two offer a great deal of insight into the movie’s production, and I enjoyed hearing Geeson’s fond memories of working with Poitier on one of her first films. An informative liner essay by Kirgo is also included.

 

The Film (3.5/5)

Audio/Video (4/5)

Extras (4/5)

________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Mississippi Mermaid/The Story of Adele H.

Director - Francois Truffuat

Cast - Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve (Mississippi Mermaid), Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Robinson (The Story of Adele H.)

Country of Origin - France

Discs - 1/1

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

 

 

Aside from my obvious affection for the horror and cult cinema to emerge from Europe and the UK in the mid to late 20th Century, my other cinematic passion is similarly located and timed arthouse cinema. Give me a film by Bergman, Fellini, or Rohmer, Godard, or Antonioni, and I will be on the couch for hours watching and analyzing every moment. When I think of these releases, I typically think of the Criterion Collection who has made it their forte to release Euro-Arthouse fare for the American market. During the DVD era certain films that were owned by major studios were released by them as DVD was seen as big business, and Blu-ray as seen as something in the periphery of their business, and as such titles tend to find themselves all over.  Still I was excited to see those folks at Twilight Time getting 2 Truffaut films in the last few months The Story of Adele H. and Mississippi Mermaid.

   Both films were made by Truffaut after the French New Wave had reached it's crescendo(I'd like to think it was officially over with the release of Godard's Weekend, but maybe that's just me). After a certain period Truffaut, while not  stopping the loose experimentation of his earlier features began to settle into making films that were more in his own dedicated style, almost like the New Wave version of a Hollywood Film. These films carried over the sense of energy and charm of his earlier features, while feeling more in line with the traditional cinema of the time. The first feature chronologically in the pair Twilight Time would release this month is Mississippi Mermaid.

   Mississippi Mermaid is Truffaut's 1969 adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich novel. This would be his second adaptation of a work by Woolrich after 1968's Jeanne Moreau starring the Bride Wore Black (Also released to Blu by Twilight Time). The film stars Jean Paul Belmondo (Breathless) as Louis a plantation owner on Reunion Island. As the film begins he is having a relationship via correspondence with Julie. She plans to come to the island so they can marry. However, when Julie arrives she is unrecognizable to Louis from the picture she had sent. Regardless, Louis falls in love with Julie and marries her. Soon after it is discovered that she wasn't Julie, she had cleared his bank account, and has left the island. This while the actual Julie remains missing. Now the real Julie's sister becomes involved in the situation, and Louis and her begin to search for the impostor, and the real Julie, and begin to unearth a situation that puts them all (even the impostor) in danger.

     Mississippi Mermaid effectively blends drama, crime, and suspense to create a truly intriguing picture from director Truffaut. The film is of course aided by a pair of marvelous leading performances from Belmondo, and leading lady Catherine Deneuve who make each seen more watchable than the last each time they share it. The Blu-ray transfer is a decent 2:35:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer preserving the film's original OAR. Twilight Time obviously did the best with what they were provided, and we get nice stable colors, accurate flesh tones, and decent detail, the overall appearance is a bit soft, and things could be better, but this is certainly an upgrade from the MGM DVD release. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA Mono track in French, also in English. The dialouge and score come through fine with no complaints about the track at all. Extras include a trailer, an informative commentary track featuring Twilight Timer's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

   Around 12 years ago when I became first obsessed with arthouse releases (as well as the cult releases that have always been my thing), I read Roger Corman's excellent, and all too short memoir "How I Made 100 Movies In Hollywood, and Never Lost a Dime".  The film covers all the facets of Corman's career through the early 1990's when the book was published. It covers his early efforts as a director and producer, to his work with New World where he produced some of the most classic exploitation films of the 1970;s, while importing and distributing some fine award winning  arthouse cinema.  One of the films that Corman specifically calls out for distributing stateside during the New World era was Francois Truffaut's 1975 film The Story of Adele H.

   Adele H. claims to be based on a true story. How much of the story is true has to be determined, but the H. in Adele H. stands for Hugo, and Adele is the daughter of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo. The film follows Adele played by the young, and still quite intense Isabelle Adjani, as she leaves her home to go to Halifax, Nova Scotia in an attempt to pursue a former lover Lieutenant Pinson (Bruce Robinson, future director of Withnail and I) who once proposed marriage to her, but has since moved on. She begins her life in Nova Scotia by renting a room in a boarding house, and sending her former lover messages which are ignored. Finally, she gets a meeting with him essentially telling her to "buzz off". Of course, she is determined, and this meeting only makes her moreso. She tries everything from ending a relationship in progress he is involved in, to paying a hypnotist to make him fall in love with her.

   The film very much reminded me of Jeunet's much later film a Very Long Engagement in the sense that it involved a character with seemed almost too determined to be with her lover. Of course, I saw the Jeunet film a short time before I saw Adele H. for the first time so in a way that two are linked in my mind.  The film essentially hinges on Adjani's performance, and as the film goes on her sanity degrades,  but she never plays the part in a way that is cliche. Like her later work in the film Possession her deteriorating mental state is performed with the utmost respect for the character.  Robinson does similarly well with the material he is provided, but this film truly is The Story of Adele H., and Adjani owns it. As a director Truffaut gives the film a very Romantic style, but outside of a few minor stylistic quirks, he wisely allows the film to belong to the actors and their performances.

     The Blu-ray of Adele H. has been presented in a 1080p AVC encoded 1:66:1 transfer. The transfer looks quite solid, with table colors, deep blacks, and fine detail. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA mono track in both English and French, and both tracks sound quite good with dialouge and score coming out nicely audible. The extras included a trailer, commentary track by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman and liner notes by Julie Kirgo. Both films also featured the traditional Twilight Time isolated score track.

 

The Films (3.5/5 3.5/5)

Audio/Video (3.5/5, 4/5)

Extras (2.5/5, 2.5/5)