Tag Archives: Isabelle Adjani

Possession (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes crazy.

Mark (Sam Neill) is shocked to learn that his happy marriage isn’t so happy when his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) asks for a divorce. He hires a detective (Carl Duering) where he learns that she is living in an apartment, but she is not alone as something else resides there with her and it’s not human.

This was sadly the only English language film directed by Ukrainian born Andrzej Zulawksi who did most of his movies in Poland. This one was made in Germany in 1980 and what struck me almost immediately is that it seems like it could’ve been done just yesterday as it institutes much of the hand-held camerawork that is so prevalent in films today, but still quite rare back then. Sometimes I find this technique annoying and overdone, but here it helps build the plot’s kinetic energy and accentuates the material’s off-kilter tone.

The gifted Adjani is the main attraction particularly the drawn out scene where she becomes possessed while inside an underground subway, which has to be seen to be believed and quite frankly a landmark moment in cinema.  I also loved how the director focuses in on her expressive blue eyes where in one scene they convey a fiery evil and then quickly cuts to them exposing a pleading emotion that remains just as captivating.

Sam Neill makes the viewer feel almost exhausted as he manifests the feelings of his character to the point that he looks both physically and emotionally drained and his acting becomes indistinguishable from genuine raw emotions. I have seen him many films before, but here he’s like a different person and not connected to the man we’ve seen or known before.

There’s definitely some over-the-top moments, but what I really liked is how it never forgets about the little details either. I’ve complained before about how blood in most movies looks fake, but here it has just the right reddish hue, which looks more authentic as does the scene where Neill slaps Adjani violently. I also appreciated how the child character (Michael Hogben) is never forgotten. Too many other films dealing with a fighting couple introduce the child up front, but then he essentially disappears as it becomes all about the adults, but parenthood is a 24-hour job that parents can’t just forget about even when it’s inconvenient and this film nicely reminds both the viewer and characters of that.

The more the film went on the more convinced I became of how it could never have been made in the US as there’s too much of an emphasis on making movies ‘marketable’ and genre specific while this film defies all the preconceived formulas, which is why it’s so cool as you have absolutely no idea where it’s going and each new twist is a genuine surprise. Despite being almost 40 years old it remains fresh and inventive and far more original than 99 % of the other movies out there. It’s like a drug trip where after it’s over you feel like you’ve lived through an actual event.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 7Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

The Story of Adele H. (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She obsesses over soldier.

Based on actual events the story centers around Adele Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the second daughter of famous French writer Victor Hugo, who in 1863 travels across the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia where she tries to rekindle her relations with Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson). Pinson is now an officer in the British army and no longer has any interest in Adele. Adele though refuses to accept his rejection and makes numerous attempts to get him to marry her. The more indifferent he becomes the harder she tries, which eventually drives her into a complete madness.

Director Francois Truffaut took the accounts from Adele’s actual handwritten diary to help recreate the story. Unlike most films nothing was altered from the documented facts and although the stalker /jilted lover theme may seem like an overused storyline by today’s standards it was still a fresh topic back in the ‘70s and one of the first documented cases in human history of what has now become known as erotomania where a person becomes convinced that the object of their desires is in love with them even when they really aren’t.

What helps this film to stand out is that the audience isn’t made to fear the woman and her actions are not portrayed as being menacing. Instead the viewer feels genuinely sorry for her as we witness firsthand how debilitating mental illness can truly be as it destroys this otherwise beautiful woman’s personality and leaves her only a shell of a person in the process.

Adjani is excellent and although the film remains compelling it still comes off as feeling incomplete. Part of the problem is that we only see the character at one stage of her life. Reportedly in real-life Adele only started to show signs of mental illness when she reached her mid-20’s, so it would’ve been interesting to have seen scenes from when she was younger and behaving more normally. Flashbacks of when Adele first met Pinson, who was initially interested in Adele and even proposed marriage to her, would’ve been intriguing to see as well.

We’re never shown Adele’s relationship to her father either, which could’ve been quite revealing. We hear voice-overs from when he sends her letters, but seeing the two interrelate in-person was needed. This may have been the result of Truffaut given the rights to film the story by Jean Hugo, but only if Victor Hugo did not appear onscreen, but in either event the film is lacking in budget and scope where a wider biopic of the woman’s life would’ve been more satisfying including showing her later years while inside a mental institution, which gets only glossed over here.

As in most cases what occurred behind-the-scenes while the film was being made is sometimes more interesting that what happened in front of the camera and this production proved to be no exception as the cast and crew went through many of the same scenarios as the characters. Truffaut tried to start up a relationship with Adjani, but was rebuffed and then she turned around and had an affair with the actor who plays the character that rebuffs her character in the movie. This caused Truffaut great jealousy as he was forced to deal with the two’s affair from afar much like Adele had to do in the story when Pinson eventually marries someone else. Truffaut later described making this movie and dealing with his unrequited love for Adjani as a ‘daily suffering’.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Driver (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A professional getaway driver.

Ryan O’Neal plays a man who makes a living as a getaway driver for crooks leaving the scene of a crime. His driving skills are superior and in the criminal underworld his services are in high demand. Bruce Dern plays a police detective obsessed with catching this elusive driver. He makes a deal with a couple of bad guys (Joseph Walsh, Rudy Ramos) to hire this driver for their next robbery and then set him up for a police trap. The Driver is initially reluctant to work with the two, but eventually joins them only to ultimately look for help from a beautiful French woman known as the Player (Isabelle Adjani) to get him out of his jam.

I’ve never been much of an O’Neal fan, but here his lack of acting depth makes the movie more intriguing. The part was originally intended for Steve McQueen who would’ve given the role the stereotypically gritty treatment, but O’Neal has more of a boyish male model demeanor which makes you question whether he is tough enough, or brazen enough to handle the driving demands, so seeing him flourish when you’re not quite expecting it gives the character an interesting edge. I also liked the fact that at times even he conveys nervous facial expressions as he takes the vehicle through dangerous turns, which helps show even the ‘cool guys’ are human.

Dern easily steals the picture as he continues to find entertaining ways to give unique and memorable touches to all the characters that he plays. The dialogue that his character utters conforms yet again to his patented delivery. For instance he accuses his partner (Matt Clark) of possibly being a ‘fruitter’. In the past men of the gay persuasion were sometimes called ‘fruits’, but never a ‘fruitter’ which is a word he totally makes-up and would be considered inane and silly if said by anyone else, but when said with Dern’s patented delivery it makes the character seem even more unhinged and threatening instead. In fact Dern’s conversations with Clark are some of the movie’s best moments.

Although Adjani’s screen time is limited and I still enjoyed her presence and the fact that she doesn’t show any of the typical female vulnerability, but instead seems more stoic than any of the men makes her stand out from other female characters of that era. It’s also fun seeing her facial expression turned to an almost catatonic state during the film’s high octane final chase sequence.  Ronee Blakely doesn’t fare quite as well as she says her lines in too much of a monotone fashion though the ironic way that her character meets her demise does deserves a few points.

The chases are exciting particularly the opening one, which is done at night and the one done inside a car garage in which O’Neal intentionally destroys the car that he is driving in an attempt to teach the two other occupants that he is with a lesson. The cat-and-mouse scenario inside an abandoned warehouse that makes up the bulk of the film’s final chase is slick as well, but I felt there needed to be at least one more chase added as the film gets talky in-between and away from the action, which is what people that come to these type of films genres expect especially with the title that it has.

Writer/director Walter Hill shows a keen eye for detail and manages to capture everything, even an abandoned parking garage with a stylish allure. The script is smart and sophisticated with the character’s expressing themselves by using only the most minimum of words possible. The plot has a unique quality, but still manages to stay believable and why this thing failed at the box office and was chastised by the critics at the time is hard to understand, but it’s gained a strong cult following since and deserves more attention for being years ahead-of-its-time.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Ishtar (1987)

ishtar

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Songwriters travel to Morocco.

Clarke (Dustin Hoffman) and Lyle (Warren Beatty) are losers-at-life that now in their middle-age years are convinced that they have talent as songwriters even though this opinion is shared by no one else. They manage to get themselves a talent agent (Jack Weston) who tells them that the only place he can get their act booked is at a club in Morocco. The two, desperate for any attention they can get, decide to take him up on the offer, but once they arrive they become swept up in international intrigue with the Emir of Ishtar and the CIA.

This film was a notorious flop in its day not only with its cost overruns, production delays and box office receipts, but with its behind-the-scenes discord between star Beatty and writer/director Elaine May. It seemed that critics and film goers alike considered it a bomb, but I came into this thing with an open mind. May has written some great scripts in the past and is known for her impeccably dry humor. I was convinced that in this day-and-age of broad comedy and over-the-top farces American audiences were simply not geared to pick up on the subtleties of the humor.

Unfortunately five minutes in it becomes painfully clear this thing is every bit as bad as its reputation states. The humor relies too heavily on the two main characters spending what seems like hours on end sitting around trying to come up with bad lyrics for their already dumb sounding songs and then singing them in an off-key, tone deaf kind of way. This may elicit a mild grin for a minute or so, but after spending the first twenty minutes on it, it gets really annoying. Even at the end as the two crawl on the desert floor they continue to work on these same lyrics, which by that time has become as dried up as the desert itself.

The insane, almost incoherent plotline is another issue. It’s like two diametrically different stories clashed precariously into one with only the thinnest of threads holding it together. What starts out as a sardonically amusing look at two middle-aged men chasing an elusive dream suddenly becomes the second reel of Raiders of the Lost Ark without warning. The wild array of loosely structured coincidences that the two go through as they reluctantly find themselves more and more inadvertently involved with the intrigue around them is so flimsily plotted and poorly thought out that it’s not even worth the effort to describe other than to say it makes little sense, is unexciting and most of all not funny.

The main characters are a turn off as well and not comically engaging as intended. The idea that two men hitting 50 would suddenly decide to chuck their relationships and jobs to chase after a songwriter career despite not getting any positive feedback from anyone else to convince them that they even possessed the ability to do it and which usually doesn’t pay well anyways seems weird and bordering on mental illness. Having the characters in their early 20’s and just starting out and willing to take any remote venue they could in order to get their first ‘big break’ would’ve worked better, or portrayed these middle-aged men as once being famous and now desperate for a comeback, or even has-been CIA agents caught up in one last case of intrigue. Just about any other scenario would’ve made more sense than the one that ultimately gets used.

Hoffman is a great actor, but his efforts here are wasted on the weak material. Beatty does well playing a dimwit and the scene where he ‘beats up’ on Adjani who he thinks is a boy is probably the only funny moment in the film. Isabelle Adjani though, who was dating Beatty at the time, is miscast in a role that doesn’t convey her talents and seems almost degrading especially the scene where she lifts up her dress at a crowded terminal and exposes her breasts in effort to prove to Hoffman that she is really a female.

This movie is in some way so amazingly bad that I was almost convinced that it was intentional and if that was the case then at least in that area it can be considered a success.

ishtar 2

ishtar 3

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Elaine May

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video