The Mad Women’s Ball (Le bal des folles) takes a look at mental health treatment in the late 1800s in France. It’s set in a real hospital, uses the names of real doctors, and tells a horrific story. You can see it on Prime Video.
Mélanie Laurent directed and stars in The Mad Women’s Ball (Le bal des folles). She plays Geneviève, the head nurse in La Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital during the time the hospital was run by Jean-Martin Charcot. In those years, the hospital was full of ‘hysterical’ women society and medicine had no idea how to deal with. Many of the women had no mental illness at all, but were merely irritants to the men around them. The answer: lock ’em up!
Eugénie (Lou de Laâge) was a young woman who spoke to the spirits. Nowadays, if you can talk to spirits you go on TV and make millions of dollars. In those days, she was considered insane and her father and brother took her to the hospital and left her in that torturous environment.
Eugénie’s stay in La Pitié Salpêtrière was the majority of the film. The primitive methods used to drive insanity out of people at the time would be considered torture now. Freezing ice baths, solitary confinement, darkness, bad food.
Eugénie was smart, well-read. She befriended the other inmates. She befriended Nurse Geneviève by telling her things about her dead sister.
The longer Eugénie was in the asylum, the more her brother Théophile (Benjamin Voisin) regretted helping his father put her there. He made contact with Geneviève and they hatched a plan to get her out.
The escape would take place during the annual ball. The women dressed up in costumes and the men of Paris came to dance with them and get drunk. This was a horrible idea, as you can imagine. There’s a rape scene during the ball, so watch out.
The story ended well for Eugénie, but all those other women were still held in a torture chamber where doctors used women like lab rats.
Mélanie Laurent did such a powerful job directing this film, making it palpable. The sound track, the setting, the actors all added to the impact of the film. It is hard to watch, but important.
Have a look at the trailer.
It’s comforting to look at tales like this an congratulate ourselves on how far medicine has come. But we still treat people who don’t conform to our idea of what a person should be with torture and bullying. We still have a ways to go, don’t we?