I’ve lost track of where we are theme wise this month – in a free for all free fall I think – which isn’t a bad thing in the lead up to Horror season.
This week we attend Victor Hugo’s funeral, smoke cigarettes in tiny bars and suffer massive injustice in an institute for the mentally insane. Take a drink every time a doctor diagnoses hysteria.
The Mad Women’s Ball (2021)
Le bal des folles
A woman who is unfairly institutionalized at a Paris asylum plots to escape with the help of one of its nurses.
Genre: Drama, Thriller ∙ IMDB user rating: 6.6
My score: 3/5 ∙ Runtime: 122 mins
Eugénie Cléry (de Laâge) sees dead people, much to the consternation of her family. In fairness, she’s not thrilled about it herself, rendered completely terrified whenever one of them pops up. And it’s not like she doesn’t have enough to push against in the late 1800s already, where young women are kept out of the juicy stuff such as debate.
Of course any talk of spiritualism is a massive no-no in this conformist family and it’s not long before Eugénie is shipped off to a psychiatric hospital before she can embarrass them any futher. While she’s a new patient at the institution, she’s also a prisoner and is treated as such. Chief nurse Genevieve (Laurent) coldly welcomes her new charge, who is horrified to find herself incarcerated in the madhouse, despite her education and wealth.
The women she meets are a mixed bag of conditions, more or less being driven to depression or psychosis by the panel of white men who are supposed to be helping them. Not a surprise really, but shocking nonetheless. Fellow patient Louise (Lomane de Dietrich) is being openly manipulated (and later physically abused) by a handsome young doctor who promises a life and marriage we all know isn’t coming.
Slowly but surely Eugénie is able to use her skills to her advantage and plans an escape, which hinges on the help of Genevieve. While the nurse is reluctant and outwardly skeptical, she is a quiet believer in the supernatural. When the ghost of her sister (via Eugénie) warns Genevieve that her father’s in immediate danger, she’s able to get to him in time so she agrees to finesse the escape.
Unfortunately, Eugénie makes an enemy in nurse Jeanne (Bercot) so the plan might not go as smoothly as intended. Will she escape into the night of the Mad Women’s Ball or will she be rumbled at the final hurdle?
You know what to do.
The MWB is based on the novel ‘Le bal des folles’ by Victoria Mas and adapted by lovely French actress Mélanie Laurent. I haven’t read the source material but it might be something I’d give a go if I was stuck for inspiration. However, I did hope for more spooki-ookiness in the form of Eugénie’s gifts and we don’t even see a ghost. The film itself looks good, is very well performed (particularly Lomane de Dietrich and Lou de Laâge) but there were times it felt very much like misery-porn and I wasn’t here for it.
The situations of the women are infuriating, of course and their treatment is vile but that kind of goes without saying. The very fact that many of them exhibit side effects from the treatments administered to them by the men FOR NO GOOD REASON is seriously disgusting and heartbreaking – Louise in particular gets the rotten end of the stick as her treatment is wrapped up in false kindness and hope. Bloody hope.
I also think there’s so much focus on Eugénie’s escape in the end that I missed what actually happened to Louise and the friends who came to help her. There are so many characters surrounding her, it would have been nice to hear more from some of them.
Am I also unreasonable for thinking that the sacrifice Genevieve makes for Eugénie’s freedom is way too much? Sure she gets to read more but it’s a lot to ask someone you barely know and I don’t think I’d be cheerfully reading the letters she sends from the outside if it was me. The actual acting is second to none though and from a directorial POV it’s good stuff – I just wanted more. Give me more, I dare you.