[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]
Early in François Truffaut’s L’Histoire d’Adèle H., before Adèle has met up with the young lieutenant she followed from Guernsey to Halifax, she is seen walking down a street near the military garrison, moving east to west, against the flow of pedestrian traffic (made up almost entirely of men in uniform). Though we are scarcely one reel into the film, we already know her to be, if not a liar, at least an obsessive fictionalizer, and a follower of fancy rather than fact. We sense, too, that this Lieutenant Albert Pinson whom we have not yet seen is not quite the devoted lover she has made him out to be, and that her passion for him may well be a one-way street.
A man in an officer’s cape whips by her; she whirls and cries out; he turns, and the two come face to face at center screen. The man is François Truffaut. Her face immediately tells us her error: yet she keeps looking, for longer than would seem necessary, and the officer looks back. Not a word is spoken, but a great deal more is going on in this shot than a simple case of mistaken identity.
In the first place, the mistake is rather improbable, in light of the Albert Pinson we meet later; for this officer is darkhaired, short, and easily old enough to be the father of Adèle’s tall, blond lieutenant. The looks, in fact, which pass between the woman and the officer on the street convey not so much the embarrassment of mistaken identity as a moment of recognition. The scene primes us for that later scene, near the very end of the film, in which Adèle walks past the real Lieutenant Pinson in Barbados without a glimmer of recognition: How complete has been the introversion of romantic fantasy in the mind of this woman who once recognized a little of her lover in nearly every man, and now fails to recognize him even in himself!