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The Mad Women’s Ball Review


The Mad Women’s Ball Review

Mélanie Laurent in ‘The Mad Women’s Ball.’

The Mad Women’s Ball

Amazon Prime Video

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Mélanie Laurent

Writer: Mélanie Laurent, Chris Deslandes

Cast: Lou de Laâge, Mélanie Laurent, Emmanuelle Bercot, Benjamin Voisin, Cédric Khan, Lomane De Dietrich, Christophe Montenez, Grégoire Bonnet

Screened at: Critics’ link, IN, 9/3/21

Opens: September 17th, 2021

A person who is believed to be able to communicate with spirits may hold a tenuous position in society. In ancient civilizations, someone with that ability might have been respected and even revered, since anyone who has lost a loved one can understand the desire to have one more chance to speak with them. Over time, the advancement of science and intellectual thought has made it more difficult for supernatural notions to be accepted. In recent and modern times, someone with purported abilities will likely be regarded as insane, which can lead to horrific treatment, as presented in the powerful period piece The Mad Women’s Ball.

Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge) is a woman much ahead of her time in 1885 Paris. She yearns to read books and enjoy the privileges afforded only to men. She is also able to see spirits, a quality that causes her cruel father and caring brother to condemn her to a clinic whose lead doctor, Professor Jean-Martin Chracot (Grégoire Bonnet) has no regard for the wellbeing of his patients and instead seeks to create medical advancements from studying them. Geneviève (Mélanie Laurent), a nurse, initially sees Eugénie as lost and in need of treatment but gradually understands the true power that she possesses that has left her trapped in an awful place.

This film starts from a place of beauty and wonder, showing the curiosity Eugénie has and the way in which Paris feeds that energy, provided her father doesn’t know precisely where she is and who is in her company. When she arrives at the clinic, her screams of horror are indication enough that her fate will be miserable, but what she finds within is a surprising assortment of people with varying degrees of affliction. Some, like her, have demonstrated tendencies that others couldn’t hope to understand and sought to shut away, while others have been discarded by more powerful people who simply wished not to have them in their lives.

There is a remarkable humanity present in all of the characters who reside within the walls of the clinic, and no portrayal is reductive or demeaning. Instead, they are all people abused by a doctor who claims to take care of them yet has no interest in bettering them if it does not bolster his own reputation. Geneviève seems dubious of his competence, yet she does her job as she must, ensuring an infusion of kindness and respect that few other staff members bother to pay their charges. The friendship that forms between Geneviève and Eugénie is warm and compelling, particularly because of the circumstances under which it develops.

This story does not attempt to find any explanation for what Eugénie can do, nor does it offer visible proof to audiences that she is telling the truth. Audiences must trust the impact her words have on other characters who are shaken by the few details she mentions that make them doubt their preexisting beliefs in solid reason. By having Eugénie be the sole source to represent her visions rather than physically manifesting them for the camera, there remains an air of mystery that aids the film’s overall impact.

Laâge is a young talent with great promise who has already delivered several notable performances, including opposite Isabelle Huppert in White as Snow. She reteams with director and star Laurent, who began her career as an actress and has now transitioned into multiple roles. The two are an excellent pair, and together they deliver a poignant, heartbreaking, and visually striking look at those who have been abandoned and the emotional resonance of them being found and truly by the right people.

121 minutes

Story – B+

Acting – A-

Technical – B+

Overall – B+

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