The chilling murder of Adrienne Shelly, the director and actress who achieved fame after her death

“When I enter this house I don’t feel like it’s the same as always, it’s like there’s still that evil presence, it’s terrifying,” said the producer andy ostroy, husband of actress and director Adrienne Shelley, when he re-entered what was his home decades ago, where until October 30, 2006 he lived with his wife and little daughter, Sophie, who had celebrated her third birthday before tragedy struck. On November 1, just a few hours after the celebration, Ostroy tried unsuccessfully to contact his wife and went to the family apartment when he began to worry. There, he was met with the worst image: Adrienne in the bathroom, hanging from a sheet. The police and the media confirmed that it was a suicide and the case was quickly closed, until Ostroy’s insistence and the appearance of new evidence turned the investigation upside down.

In the documentary of Max HBO, Adrianne, Directed by the artist’s own husband, the spotlight is placed not only on the final moments of her life, but also on how Shelly was an accomplished performer, who enjoyed being part of the undercurrent, and whose memorable creative collaborations with filmmaker Hal Hartley they erected it as the new promise of cinema Independent When one sees works by the filmmaker such as the unbelievable truth and the unforgettable Confidence, finds in Adrienne a complete actress. Hartley always knew that and kicked her out of the pretty woman spot to exploit both her comedic side and a certain vulnerability she carried with her.

“For a long time, she was afraid of death -reveals her husband in the documentary-. At least, since her father’s death, something she couldn’t deal with.” Those who knew Adrienne, who in the New York of the 90s sought not only to collaborate with directors of the Independent but eventually becoming a respected filmmaker herself, they say her luminous presence made it impossible not to want to be around her. However, also He was carrying the weight of anguish over the death of his father. “She was looking for answers to what happened, she did not understand why he was suddenly no longer with us,” explained her mother, Elaine.

Adrienne Shelly in her movie, Waitress, which became a famous Broadway play

Sheldon Levine died in his sleep when Adrienne was little, and as a way of honoring him, she used her father’s name as her last name. Adrienne Levine became Adrienne Shelly, as she used to call that man who left a huge void in her life, but also a motto: enjoy every moment, don’t waste it. In an industry that was not used to seeing stories led by women -much less directed by them-, Adrienne, who had been part of the Brent Hamer film, Done beside matt dillon, based on the work of charles bukowski, I knew I had to get back in the game as a filmmaker. In 1996 he had directed the comedy sudden manhattan, but some lapidary criticism made her rethink her work. “Some malicious comments had affected her -says her husband in the documentary-, but then she remembered why she had chosen her career and moved on”. Shelly loved New York, she loved meeting with colleagues, shooting on a shoestring budget, throwing something out into the world, regardless of the outcome.

In a very eloquent stretch of Adrianne, the actress and director herself narrates, in a video rescued by her husband, what the cinematographic scene was like at the time, where the figure of harvey weinsteinwho harassed her on a shoot: “There is no place for women, sometimes I think there is and then I see something that makes me change my mind, that’s why I hope someday I can tell stories that represent us.” His huge smile as he enunciated his desire foreshadowed what he was conceiving. After his feature film I’ll take you there Shelly devoted herself to a script that she had been polishing for a long time: that of Waitress.

When filming began, she no longer had any doubts about what she wanted for her future, and her posthumous work reflects a feminist discourse that is also permeated by sweetness, by naivete. The role of Jenna Hunterson was played to perfection by keri russell, who personifies a pregnant woman who lives with an abusive husband and who falls in love with the town doctor. Anyway, Waitress It is not the story of a love triangle, it is an extraordinary portrait of the path to motherhood with all its ups and downs, and the importance of friendship in a world without certainties (the director’s secondary performance goes along that track).

“Adrienne was very proud of the film. Her dream was for her to be selected for the Sundance Festival, ”her husband recalled on one occasion. In that place, long ago, Hartley had been nominated for the Jury Prize for the unbelievable truth, and Shelly felt it was the ideal setting to showcase her own work. One day, the letter arrived. Waitress it was to be exhibited on January 21, 2007 at the festival. The director’s emotion led her to celebrate with her friends, including actor Paul Rudd and actress Cheryl Hines, who was also in the cast of the film, and to prepare for the moment she’s been waiting for since she told her parents at age 10 that she wanted to do plays at Long Island’s Stagedoor Manor. Unfortunately, hours after celebrating Halloween and her daughter’s birthday, Adrienne crossed paths with Diego Pillco, a 19-year-old who murdered her in the study of her apartment in the West Village neighborhood.

Keri Russell, Andy Ostroy and Cheryl Hines at an Adrienne Shelly Foundation Gala
Keri Russell, Andy Ostroy and Cheryl Hines at an Adrienne Shelly Foundation GalaCountess of Jemal – WireImage

After Ostroy testified to the police and explained that his wife had never made the decision to take her own life, an autopsy was ordered that should have been done long before. The result of it confirmed the hypothesis of Shelly’s family: at 40 years old, she had been strangled in her office. Soon, they found the murder, Diego Pillco, a builder who was working on the building, and who confessed to killing Adrienne because she had found him breaking into her apartment. He then took her to the bathroom, where she tried to pass off her murder as suicide. That setup initially confused investigators, until the evidence and Pillco’s subsequent statement proved that Adrienne had been murdered. In 2008, the young man was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Because Ostroy didn’t want to live with the last image of his screaming wife, he decided to visit Pillco and recorded the encounter in jail for his documentary. It is a heartbreaking moment of his work, in which the man tells him what he did to Shelly while Ostroy can’t stop crying. “I wanted you to see that you took a mother from her daughter, a daughter from her mother, and a wife from someone who loved her very much,” the producer tells the killer, who walks away undaunted.

Adrianne, the documentary that Ostroy made as a tribute to Shelly does not end with that episode, but in any case it is impossible not to feel the same impotence as the husband of an artist who had a lot to give. As evidence, we see him walking around New York, walking down Broadway, where he was showing Waitress, the hit musical based on the Shelly movie, with songs by Sara Bareilles, which was nominated for four Tony Awards. The man talks to those who bought tickets to see the play and tells them who wrote the original story, as a way to keep his wife’s name alive, to make sure her legacy isn’t lost. Some time before, when the film premiered at Sundance, the presentation was bittersweet. “I think we were all crying at the time, thinking how much Adrienne would have liked to be there,” said one of her friends.

In memory of his wife, Ostroy created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which awards scholarships to female directors, such as Oscar winners Cynthia Wade and Chloe Zhao. “In this industry, it’s the animals that are in charge,” Shelly had said about her experience crossing paths with Weinstein, who produced The incredible truth. In the filming, he asked Hal Hartley to include more sensual scenes of Adrienne, before which the director refused, generating a dispute. Adrienne was on her way to fight those animals until one of them ended her life. “She was a warm person, with enormous inner beauty and contagious energy”, that is how her husband evokes her and that is how she is described to her daughter, who has very few memories of her. To feel closer to her mother, she reads her diaries and follows in her footsteps: Sophie also discovered that art is her calling.

Adrianne, by Andy Ostroy, is available on HBO Max.

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