The story of Eugenie, a luminous and passionate young girl at the end of the 19th century. Eugenie has a unique gift: she hears and sees the dead. When her family discovers her secret, she is taken by her father and her brother to the neurological clinic of La Salpêtrière with no possibility of escaping her fate. This clinic, directed by the eminent professor Charcot, one of the pioneers of neurology and psychiatry, welcomes women diagnosed with hysterics, madness, epilepsy and all other types of physical and mental illnesses. Eugenie’s path will then meet that of Geneviève, a nurse from the neurological unit whose life passes before her eyes without her really living it. Their meeting will change their destinies forever as they prepare to attend the famous “Bal des folles” organized every year by Professor Charcot within the clinic.
The fool’s ball, it is above all a novel of the same name by Victoria Mas published in 2019 by Albin Michel and awarded the Renaudot prize for high school students. The book has attracted the attention of producers since two adaptations have been initiated. The first, entrusted to Arnaud Des Pallières, will benefit from the presence of Léa Seydoux in the lead role. The second, ordered by Prime Video, arrived in the hands of Mélanie Laurent who found Lou De Laage after Breathe, probably his best film to date.
What is this famous Bal des Folles which is held every year in mid-Lent, during which the whole of Paris is slammed, dancing the waltz and the polka alongside women dressed as colombines, gypsies and musketeers? Two rooms, two atmospheres: on one side are those described as “idiots” and those with epilepsy; on the other, the hysterics, the “mad”. The reality of this event is much more murky than a simple social gathering. It is in fact an experiment by Charcot, a French neurologist renowned for his medical work and wishing to make patients of the Salpêtrière individuals of society like the others. The work thus focuses on the destiny of several women from the pen of Victoria Mas who took advantage of this first novel to evoke the condition of women in the 19th century.
Mélanie Laurent begins her feature film by following the path of Eugenie, endowed with visions. His brother, camped by Benjamin Voisin (Simon’s last life, Summer 85), is taken into his confidence and this does not fail to worry him, but Eugenie reassures him for a while. Soon, against her will, she is forcibly taken to the clinic where she meets Geneviève, a rather austere-looking nurse (played by Mélanie Laurent) who wonders about her new patient.
For her first period film, despite a few blunders and a tendency to didacticism, the French actress-director paints a chilling picture of the medical research methods used on these women, with all the abuses (physical or moral) that they involve. , in a deeply patriarchal society which hastens to accuse a woman of hysterics simply wishing to defend her rights, her freedom as well as her dignity.