Science and religion are so different yet so similar. They share an indistinguishable rigidity and are indifferent to compassion. Both fields fear things they can’t decipher. Thus, they try ardently to subdue or mold stuff as per their beliefs. When they fail to persuade peacefully, they use physical force, as if they fear the unconventional. Mélanie Laurent’s film, The Mad Women’s Ball, explores a similar thought and depicts it gracefully.
The French film, The Mad Women’s Ball, is based on a French novel, Le Bal des Folles, written by Victoria Mas. Actress turned director Mélanie Laurent sits on the director’s chair for the movie while also portraying a titular character. The period drama is set in late 18th century France, when opinionated men exercised their power with arrogance and gender discrimination was at its zenith.
‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ Plot Summary
A 26-year-old young woman, Eugéne Cléry (Lou de Laâge), born into a family of French aristocrats, attends the funeral of the French novelist, Victor Hugo, in Paris. The crowd in the streets amazes her, but the loss fills her heart with grief. Eugéne returns home and lies to her strict father, François Cléry, about her uninformed absence.
At night, Eugéne suffers a seizure and looks blankly at the empty space. Suddenly, her grandmother, Grand-mere Cléry, calls Eugéne and breaks the spell.
Eugéne reveals to her brother, Théophile Cléry (Benjamin Voisin), that she sees spirits. A young woman has been speaking to her for the last few days. Later, at night, while combing her grandmother’s hair, Eugéne suffers another stroke and, like a possessed being, digs out a lost pendant from a side table. Eugéne conveys that her dead grandfather told her about the whereabouts of the lost pendant. In shock, Grand-mere hugs Eugéne.
On December 18th, 1885, François and Théophile drop Eugéne off at the Salpêtrière mental asylum for women. Eugéne pleads that she isn’t sick, but the men in authority refuse to listen to her cries. In the asylum, head nurse, Geneviève Gleizes (Mélanie Laurent), informs the head scientist, Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (Grégoire Bonnet), who will decide her fate. Once Dr. Charcot finds Eugéne mentally fit for society, he will let her go. Until then, Salpêtrière Hospital is her new home.
The Mad Scientists of Salpêtrière
The mad and arrogant scientists of Salpêtrière Hospital treated their mental patients as “lab rats.” The most shocking case involved a young patient, Lousie, befriended by Eugéne. According to Charcot, Lousie suffered from acute symptomatic hysteria. Immorally, Charcot put Lousie on public display in a room filled with aristocratic men. He hypnotized Lousie (like a snake charmer) and, under the spell, commanded her to enact seductive gestures that pleased the hungry wolves in coats. In his session, Charcot triggered Lousie’s nerve activity, due to which she suffered epilepsy.
Many women in the asylum were mentally ill or accused of felonies. But there were poor, innocent women too, and Charcot and Jules exploited them for their desires and experiments. Jules promised Lousie that he would marry her, but it was evident that he wanted to satisfy his untold desires. But before he could achieve it, Lousie faced lateral hemiplegia under hypnosis. Her right side of the body got paralyzed. The conscious Eugéne who witnessed the scientists’ exploitation blamed them for their atrocity. However, Charcot used his authoritarian powers and declared Eugéne hostile. He locked her in the cell in isolation for a month to calm her nerves.
‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ Ending, Explained
When Eugéne stepped into the asylum, she shared an intense relationship with Geneviève Gleizes. However, during her stay, Eugéne told Geneviève about her dead sister Blandine. She further explained that she could talk to Blandine due to her mysterious power to interact with spirits. After her sister’s death, Geneviève wrote numerous letters to Blandine in remorse as she blamed herself for Blandine’s death. Through Eugéne, Geneviève mended her relationship with Blandine and achieved closure. And in exchange, Geneviève helped Eugéne to get back her freedom.
Eugéne was rescued from isolation and the cruelty of nurse Jeanne (Emmanuelle Bercot) by Geneviève. Later, to fulfill her promise, Geneviève devised a plan and invited Eugéne’s brother, Théophile, to the Salpêtrière Hospital Annual Ball. During the event, Geneviève helped Eugéne to run away with Théophile, but during their escape, Jeanne saw Geneviève aiding Eugéne. Hence, to take responsibility and help other patients, Geneviève stayed back while Eugéne flew away.
Concurrently, a drunk Jules fell prey to her animalistic desires and took a paralyzed Lousie to an isolated chamber. He raped her. A fellow patient informed the old patient, Therese, of Jules’ immoral acts. Therese acted instinctively and reached the room. She thrashed Jules with all her might, but his fate wasn’t revealed in the end. As underlined by Lousie earlier, Therese pushed her husband into the Seine river. If she held such tendencies, she would back away from harming Jules.
Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot tended to label all revolting women as “mad and hostile.” Following his narcissistic behavior, Charcot and Jeanne blamed Geneviève for Eugéne’s escape. She was admitted to the asylum, and symbolically, she replaced Eugéne. Geneviève’s father was a well-learned man but was equally narrow-minded like all other mad scientists. Hence, he wouldn’t have come to his daughter’s rescue. The only ray of hope in Geneviève’s life were the letters she exchanged with Eugéne living a free life in the outside world. Throughout the film, Geneviève wrote letters to her dead sisters looking for closure. Still, symbolically, she filled her void by helping Eugéne. In the end, Eugéne became a living Blandine in Geneviève’s life, maybe.
The Mad Women’s Ball (or Le Bal des Folles in French) is a 2021 Period Drama film directed by Mélanie Laurent.