The Woman Behind the Man (Film Review: “Mr. & Mrs. Adelman”)

A captivating and dizzying chronicle of one literary marriage over a 45 year time span, according to rival husband vs. wife narrators. Is the Truth somewhere in-between?

SnapShot Plot

Mr. & Mrs. Adelman (Monsieur et Madame Adelman) is a tricky film to discuss, because its point of view keeps switching back and forth between its two lead characters in a swirling dance of opposing perspectives. But it’s so comedically appealing and culturally vibrant that you are swept along for the ride without minding the manipulation.

We enter the plot on the occasion of the funeral of celebrated author, Victor Adelman, lauded by all as an integral voice in the annals of contemporary French literature, whose works have been compared with those of Philip Roth and even Albert Camus. His wife, Sarah, appears oddly serene throughout the event and when a young reporter shows up after the service for an understandably ill-timed interview with the widow, Sarah blithely accommodates his wishes. What prevails is a winding narration, hours in length, in which she details the highlights (and low lights) of hers and Victor’s mutual story. We soon realize, though, that Sarah is a most unreliable narrator. But it’s more than the forgivable memory lapses of a grieving woman for the love of her life. Here is a character whose personality, will and intellect is a force of nature. And because we are literally dazzled by Sarah, we mostly take her at her word, especially when she describes the early days of her romance with Victor, and how instrumental she was in the development of his talent.

Victor’s own narration comes to us mostly through flashbacks of his whining psychotherapy sessions in which he obsesses on his dysfunctional bourgeois family, his penis size, the crumbling French State, and the love-hate passions he feels for Sarah, a castrating woman he can’t fathom living up to.

Nicolas Bedos and Doria Tillier play Victor and Sarah with a conversational breeziness and sheer personality that sweeps you into their arch, electrifying dialogue before you realize that underneath all this charm is something much less glittering than gold. The trick is to know who to believe, and in the end, who to forgive.

Parting Shot

The movie was directed by Nicolas Bedos himself, a French actor and writer known for La Belle Epoque (2019) and Encore Heureux (2015). He co-wrote the script with his co-star and real-life partner, Doria Tillier. The film received nominations in 2017 for the César Award for Best Actress as well as a César Award for Best First Feature Film.

Mr. & Mrs. Adelman is the kind of film that dazzles you at the offset, in its cheeky send-ups of hackneyed tropes about the haute couture illusions of all things French. It’s a long, winding history (albeit historically relative, depending on the telling) of the relationship between a struggling writer and the woman who would become his muse/critic/wife in a swirling cascade of scenes from their lives both together and apart. Fittingly, the film is divided into chapters whose titles reflect the changing tides of the couple’s journey through life. At times hilariously absurd and at other times heartbreaking in its depiction of this dynamic duo and the often tragic blows they inflict upon each other, the film begs the question of ownership in the end. Ownership of talent, of reputation, or at the very least, who gets to tell the story.

Mr. & Mrs. Adelman is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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