There is a well-known 1887 “The Mad Women’s Ball” portray by André Brouillet known as “A Medical Lesson on the Salpêtrière.” In it, a room stuffed with males watches an odd demonstration occurring at the entrance of the room. A person stands beside a desk lined with medical devices. A girl in a loosened corset, her breasts practically uncovered, swoons into the arms of a person. Her left hand clenches in a claw. This disturbing tableau depicts neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, celebrated for what was thought of as his groundbreaking remedy of the mentally sick on the Pitié-Salpêtrière asylum in Paris. He would usually give demonstrations of his methodology, utilizing precise sufferers. This portray is recreated in Mélanie Laurent’s “The Mad Girls’ Ball,” a compelling and vivid adaptation of Victoria Mas’ novel about two girls trapped—in numerous methods—behind the gates of the Salpêtrière throughout Charcot’s reign.
“The Mad Women’s Ball” is an element of psychodrama and half melodrama, and it wears these mantles proudly and confidently. Every scene throbs with urgency and emotion. Nothing is unimportant. At the identical time, the movie is very managed, with a taut assured script. Laurent, who additionally did the difference, deftly loops collectively two separate narratives, operating aspect by aspect at prime velocity till they intersect.
Eugénie (Lou de Laâge), a rich however rebellious younger girl, is dedicated to the Salpêtrière towards her will by her father (Cédric Kahn), who is worried that his daughter sometimes talks (and listens) to the useless. She has thrust right into a constructing extra dungeon than a hospital, stuffed with the howls and wails of girls. Laurent, an achieved actress, most well-known for her function in “Inglourious Basterds,” performs Geneviève, the top nurse, current at Eugénie’s traumatic consumption. Geneviève is smileless and chilly within the face of Eugénie’s terror. It seems at first that Geneviève is Nurse Ratched. Chilly waters run deep, although. Geneviève is filled with surprises.
The dormitory is a nightmare, with girls screaming and preventing or misplaced in catatonic states. A vivacious affected person named Louise (Lomane de Dietrich) takes Eugénie underneath her wing. Louise tells Eugénie about her fiance, a health care provider, and there is one thing somewhat too frantic about this declaration. It seems that, unsurprisingly, all types of horrible issues occur behind these big gates: exploitation, pointless cruelty, and sexual assault. Taken all collectively, these items do not simply perpetuate insanity however create it. Many of those girls should not be “mad” in any respect. They’re excessive pitched, maybe, or “hysterical” (within the parlance of the day), some have epilepsy, and—within the case of Louise—clear proof of sexual trauma. The remedies—bloodletting, magnet remedy, hydrotherapy, isolation—are barbaric. Often, one in all these traumatized girls is wheeled out in the entrance of viewers, the lads in Brouillet’s portray, to be hypnotized by Charcot (Grégoire Bonnet). Charcot has turned the asylum right into a showplace, culminating with a grotesque costume “ball,” the place the general public involves gawk on the “mad girls,” all of whom are in costume.
Eugénie’s downside just isn’t that she’s “mad.” It is that she actually does communicate to the useless, and he or she refuses to recant, even underneath excessive stress. How she finally ends up utilizing the present that obtained her into a lot of bother is among the joys of this usually upsetting movie. It is not what you’d count on, and it entails Geneviève. In so some ways, girls’ “whisper networks” are the actual story right here, how girls go on info surreptitiously, unseen by the misogynistic tradition wielding its energy over them.
Laurent pays cautious consideration to all the girls within the dormitory, permitting them to be people, not only a generic backdrop for Eugénie’s journey. Laurent’s method fills the scenes with life: characters emerge, tales, tragedies, whispered and handed alongside. The movie would not “gawk” on the girls like the lads on the demonstration do. The movie loves them, cares about them.
The climax, going down through the macabre “ball,” is a surprise of scene development (the movie was edited by Anny Danché). A number of storylines come to a head concurrently, and the sequence is propulsive, tense, thrilling even. Asaf Avidan’s easy but efficient rating is used all through, mournful cellos and anguished violins throbbing beneath the scenes. Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis shot the movie with sensitivity and care: the digicam strikes solely when it has to, and when it does transfer it helps intensify the movie’s momentum. There’s one sequence made up of a sequence of eerie nonetheless lives china teapots, damask curtains, silver hairbrushes … the detritus of a lady’s life, what a lady will depart behind. It is not a lot. The color palette is muted all darkish blues, greys. You possibly can odor the mildew of these dank damp dungeon partitions.
That is Laurent’s fifth movie as a director, however her first of such dimension and scope (and her first-period drama). She makes use of completely different visible motifs time and again, inconsiderate and exact methods. There are a number of lingering photographs of the backs of girls’ heads, be it Eugénie, Geneviève, or the sadistic Nurse Jeanne (Emmanuelle Bercot). The movie opens with a shot of the again of Eugénie’s head, among the many crowds flooding the streets for Victor Hugo’s funeral. She by no means turns round. We’re left to surprise: Who’s she? What’s she excited about? What’s in her head? Because the photographs accumulate, these questions intensify their demand. With all of the blather about psychological well-being, all of the braggings about “curing” the sufferers, there’s completely no curiosity about what is perhaps occurring in their heads. The ladies emotions about their very own lives couldn’t be extra irrelevant.
Melodrama will get a nasty rap, however, it has at all times been an efficient container for getting out sure messages, for offering house for social commentary, for addressing widespread “ills” of the world. Melodrama could be over-blown, over-heated, sentimental. “The Mad Girls’ Ball” is none of these issues. Laurent’s management over the fabric reaps big rewards.