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La Reine Adjani

Posted in - general discussion on November 9th 2011 12 Comments

Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H.What’s this? A post about someone other than Vivien Leigh or Laurence Olivier? Yes, you read that right. Whenever I’ve highlighted other celebrities on this site it’s usually because they were somehow related to the Oliviers. This post differs in that respect. Today I have decided to dedicate this space to someone completely unrelated to the subjects of this website, and, to top it all off, she’s a modern actress. Yet, as I will explain, she is fully deserving of the spotlight.

I’m talking about Isabelle Adjani, the two-time Oscar nominee and winner of the most Caesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for acting in cinema history. I first saw Isabelle on screen about three years ago when I watched Roman Polanski’s thriller The Tenant for the first time. But it wasn’t until last year when I wrote a paper about Werner Herzog’s remake of F.W. Murnau’s silent vampire classic Nosferatu for a film class that I really became aware of her. As Lucy Harker, her stunning beauty contrasted brilliantly with Klaus Kinski’s monstrous visage.

Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, she was one of France’s biggest stars, working with many of the greatest directors of European cinema including Roman Polanski (The Tenant), Herzog (Nosferatu the Vampyre), Andrezj Zulawski (Possession), Francois Truffaut (L’Historie d’Adele H.) and Luc Besson (Subway, and the music video for her pop hit Pull Marine). She was renowned for a combination of looks and exceptional acting talent, and although now 55 and admittedly a fan of anti-aging remedies such as botox, she  beat out the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Catherine Deneuve and even Vivien Leigh to top an LA Times Magazine list of the “most beautiful women in film” earlier this year.

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Adjani as Adele Hugo in L’Historie d’Adele H.

I recently “rediscovered” Adjani in the 1975 costume drama/biopic L’Historie d’Adele H. (The Story of Adele H.) and was blown away by her performance (so much so that I reviewed the film for YAM Magazine). She plays Adele Hugo, youngest daughter of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo, whose obsessive, unrequited love for British soldier Albert Pinson drives her to madness. Only 20 when this film was made, she picked up an Oscar nomination that validated her promise as a rising talent (she lost out to Louise Fletcher for her chilling performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). As Kimberly Lindbergs at Cinebeats aptly pointed out, it would have been easy for Adjani to make a name for herself based on looks alone, but instead of accepting a string of glamorous roles, she chose to broaden her horizons and play characters that offered her the chance to display her acting skills. Many of the women she portrays–Anna in Possession, Marguerite de Valois in La Reine Margot, Camille Claudel in Camille Claudel–combine enchanting beauty and sexuality with madness, and she holds nothing back. The results are often jarring and somewhat disturbing. You actually believe that she is being rather than acting and she projects a palpable intensity that makes it difficult to pay attention to anyone else sharing a scene with her.

Isabelle AdjaniIn many ways, Adjani reminds me very much of Vivien Leigh and that’s probably partly why I think she’s so amazing. In fact, we were having a discussion over at the Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Facebook page about how if a biopic had been made about Vivien 30 years ago, she would have been a great choice to “step into” Scarlett O’Hara’s shoes. Born in France to a German mother and Algerian father, Isabelle Adjani definitely had the right look. She is also trilingual and has performed in French, German and English. Like Vivien, Adjani has refused to be typecast, and has interspersed her film career with performances on stage (including several plays at the Comedie Francais). Like Vivien, she had a face that was suitable for costume dramas and has starred in many period films. She even played Marguerite Gautier in a stage version of Alexandre Dumas fils’ Le Dame aux camélias. Behold, the gorgeousness!

Isabelle Adjani as Adele Hugo

Isabelle Adjani and Roman Polanski in The Tenant
Isabelle Adjani in The Tenant
Isabelle Adjani in Nosferatu

Isabelle Adjani as Emily Bronte

Isabelle Adjani

Isabelle Adjani in Possession

Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel

Isabelle Adjani in La Reine Margot

I would definitely recommend watching some of Isabelle Adjani’s films. She is truly a tour de force on screen and has quickly shot up to the top of my list of favorite modern actresses (of which there aren’t many).

Check out these clips if this post hasn’t quite persuaded you:

Isabelle Adjani as Adele Hugo in L’Historie d’Adele H.
Isabelle Adjani as Anna in Possession
Isabelle Adjani as Stella in The Tenant
Isabelle Adjani as Queen Margot in La Reine Margot

*Some screencaps by the Isabelle Adjani Blog | gif by rhera

As of now (12) people have had something to say...

  • Rita - Reply

    November 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Adjani’s portrayal of Adele Hugo is one of the greatest female performances ever seen on film. in my opinion. But I also think that no other director did for her what Truffaut did: It’s a pity they didn’t make any other picture together, because for all her beauty and talent, she never reached such heights again.

    • Kendra - Reply

      November 9, 2011 at 11:45 pm

      I think she’s brilliant in every single thing I’ve seen her in, even if the film itself wasn’t much to write home about. Have you seen Possession? She’s so intense, creepy, amazing. She won the best actress award at Cannes for it.

      • Rita - Reply

        November 10, 2011 at 10:13 pm

        Of course she is brilliant, I’ve not denied her talent or her beauty but I do think that “L’histoire d’ Adele Hugo” is still her best picture to date and that the partnership of Truffaut directing and Adjani acting proved to be one ot the most precious material.

  • #someday - Reply

    November 10, 2011 at 3:52 am

    actually she didn’t beat out vivien leigh on the 50 most beautiful women in film list. it’s listed in alphabetical order her last name begin with A so obviously she goes first

  • Eric Caron - Reply

    November 15, 2011 at 4:33 am

    Hi Kendra,
    Thank you for this post about Adjani… Being French myself, I followed her career, whether I wanted it or not, because her movies were very often in cinemas and TV. She also played in a lot of comedies, but one of her most celebrated movies is “l’été meurtrier”, where she appears overtly sexy and vulgar, in a complex melodramatic plot. It was an unusual part for her, and it has been very talked about.

    But what I wanted to say is that years ago (if I remember well, it was at the time when “Scarlett” by Alexandra Ripley was published) a famous French magazine made a photo session with Adjani, dressed as Scarlett, and the article stated that she would be perfect in the part if ever a sequel was to be filmed… Indeed, the pictures were gorgeous. The hairstyles and dresses, as well as the staging, were awesome, and Isabelle Adjani was really gorgeous… I certainly kept those pages, but I just can’t remember where they can be !

    I had completely forgot about that, but reading your post just reminded me of that article.

    (too bad now Adjani has that strange “egg-like” face, due as you said to botox or other things)


    • Kendra - Reply

      November 15, 2011 at 10:25 am

      Thanks for the great comment, Eric!

      I’d love to see those photos if you’re able to find them, they sound fascinating. I suppose that was around the time she made La Reine Margot, in which I thought she was amazingly beautiful (and nearly 40!). It really is sad about her look now–it’s sad a lot of former “most beautiful women” are now resorting to it, like Catherine Deneuve. I think Adjani’s co-star and peer Isabelle Hupert has aged rather gracefully

      • Eric Caron - Reply

        November 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

        I 100% agree with you Kendra !!
        Did you see a french movie called “Bon Voyage” by Jean-Paul Rappeneau ? It is quite recent and Adjani plays an actress during WW2, and especially at a time where people from the North of France fled their homes to go south, because of the German invasion… The way Adjani plays her character somehow reminded me of Vivien playing Scarlett… And the plot somehow reminded me GWTW (people fleeing their home because of an invader, and all the turmoil that follows).

  • tazyzas - Reply

    November 18, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    These pictures are older; she made it when she was Christian Dior ambassador: here are an example: I think she appeared in lind of a show to promote a perfume. But I can’t remember when exactly. You can find more infos about her here:

    • Eric Caron - Reply

      November 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      Yes, the second picture you posted was part of the article. But in the french magazine I had it was clearly connected to an article connecting Adjani to “Scarlett”… I’ll try to find it… But the magazine is certainly in my boxes in France… And I am in Montreal now ;-)


  • […] brilliantly Adjani projects the polarities of human nature. I recently dedicated an entire post to how awesome Isabelle Adjani is, and this film totally blew that admiration through the roof. Let me direct you to the infamous […]

  • Fiona - Reply

    October 24, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I agree with Rita in that Adjani never quite reached the heights or depth of her portrayal as Adele Hugo although she has appeared in some notable films. It is regrettable that you prefer her catastrophically grotesque plastic surgery and compare her looks to actresses such as Brigitte Bardot who has aged naturally. I have been following Adjani’s career since Adele H. was released and she had plastic surgery pretty early on (a couple of nose jobs) which is tragic considering she was a stunning beauty and the surgery changed her appearance. Begin with her earlier films and you will notice the change.

  • Fiona - Reply

    October 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    I do love your site, btw.
    Please compare her photos from “The Slap” to the ones in “Adele H.” two years later. Something changed which is a shame…

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