This is all very funny. Today I am a star – and tomorrow?
– Isabelle Adjani, 1977
One of my favorite actresses is the stunningly beautiful and incredibly talented Isabelle Adjani. Like many lovely actresses, it would have been easy for Adjani to take glamourous roles during her lifetime that accentuated her beauty and relied on her batting her big blue eyes, but instead she has chosen to appear in challenging films that give her the chance to show off her amazing acting skills. Isabelle Adjani is forever battling madness in her movies while trying to make sense of the world around her. Her characters effortlessly glide through centuries and costume changes, but all of them seem to posses a ferociously independent spirit and passionate heart.
When she was only twenty years old Isabelle Adjani appeared in François Truffaut’s masterful The Story of Adele H (a.k.a. L’ Histoire d’Adèle H., 1975) playing the daughter of the great French writer Victor Hugo, who becomes obsessed with a British lieutenant named Albert Pinson and is determined to make him love her. Adjani turns Truffaut’s beautiful historical drama into a horror film when her obsession leads to madness. She seems incapable of holding anything back while losing her mind to love.
The role of Adele Hugo would set the stage for the rest of Adjani’s amazing career playing women who often suffered for love and were tormented by the men in their lives as well as their own inner demons. She has appeared in occasional comedies and more lightweight fare, but her dramatic roles in dark dramas and thrillers have always impressed me the most.
Adjani on the set of The Story of Adele H. (1975) with François Truffaut
and with Roman Polanski on the set of The Tenant (1976)
During the 1970s and 80s she appeared in many of the decades best horror films and crime thrillers including Roman Polanski’s chilling The Tenant (a.k.a. Le Locataire, 1976), Walter Hill’s entertaining crime film The Driver (1978), Herzog’s fantastic remake of Nosferatu with Klaus Kinski called Nosferatu: The Vampyre (a.k.a. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, 1979), Andrzej Zulawsk’s thoughtful and incredibly creepy Possession (1981), the fascinating thrillers Deadly Circuit, (a.k.a. Mortelle randonnée, 1983) and One Deadly Summer (a.k.a. L’ Été meurtrier, 1983), plus Luc Besson’s Subway (1985).
During this period she also continued to appear in critically acclaimed dark and disturbing historical dramas such as James Ivory’s Quartet (1981) and Bruno Nuytten’s remarkable Camille Claudel (1988). She should have easily walked away with the Oscar in 1990 for Best Actress for her role in Camille Claudel which she was nominated, but she lost to Jessica Tandy in the rather dull, dreadful and terribly overrated Driving Miss Daisy (1989).
In the 90s Adjani started acting less and less and chose to spend much of her time raising her two sons by director Bruno Nuytten and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. She would triumphantly return to the screen again in Patrice Chéreau’s excellent bloody historical epic Queen Margot (La Reine Margot, 1994), but she has only made a handful of films since then. Unfortunately most of her recent films are not easily available to American audiences which is a shame.
Besides making movies, she also recorded an album in 1983 with help from songwriter and producer Serge Gainsbourg which included the hit song “Pull Marine.” The song was made into a fascinating music video by director Luc Besson which you can listen to and watch on YouTube.
Today Isabelle Adjani is celebrating her 52th birthday. I wish her well and hope that she’ll continue to appear in films for another 30 years. I also hope that she will continue to take on roles that showcase her incredible acting talents and challenge her audiences.
Links to some clips from a few of my favorite Isabelle Adjani films on YouTube:
Brief scene from The Story of Adele H. (1976)
Scenes from the The Tenant (1976)
Scenes from The Driver (1978)
Scene from Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Scene from Possession (1981)
Music video with scenes from Subway (1985)
Short scene from Camille Claudel (1988)