TIFF 2021: The Mad Women’s Ball dir. Melanie Laurent

Poignant and emotionally satisfying, Laurent’s film, The Mad Women’s Ball is a lush period piece that resonates with impactful themes and understated performances.

Based on the novel of the same name by Victoria Mas, the film’s narrative follows Eugenie (Lou de Laage), a woman who suffers from visions that may be spiritual visitations. Very much against the view of the world as seen by those who run it, consequently she is forced into an asylum, and subject to the brutal treatment of Dr. Charcot (Gregoire Bonnet), who is more interested in making an example of the women under his charge at the yearly Mad Women’s Ball.

Equally trapped by society, is the institution’s head nurse, Genevieve (Laurent), who realises that Eugenie is not mad, and her compassionate acts may result in her own sentence in the hospital.

The realities within the hospital is reflective of the life outside it, where women, especially those of intelligence and power, aren’t supported (sometimes, as shown in the film, not even by other women) but repressed, stomped down, and denied. Doctors use the patients for their own needs and desires, overruling any self-autonomy, confining those who speak out, and using barbaric treatments to break the will and mold these women into something malleable by those who are scared of them.

Admittedly some of them suffer from mental illness, but as we learn when Eugenie learns about the residents, most of them are simply inconvenient to men, and so are locked away. But compassion, discussion, willingness to listen and understand can lead to freedom.

Laurent’s film is beautiful, heartrending and thought-provoking.

The Mad Women’s Ball screens digitally at TIFF one last time on Saturday.

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