It is a story as previous as time: A lady will not conform to societal norms, conventional notions of femininity or what’s anticipated of her, and is dismissed as diseased. She’s thought of hysterical. And, as such, she is locked up, burned on the stake, hidden away or positioned beneath the supposedly steadier management of males.
It is performed out in actual life, in addition to in numerous books, TV exhibits and flicks. The French Amazon unique function “The Mad Girls’s Ball,” which premiered on the Toronto Worldwide Movie Competition and is out on Amazon Prime right now, is the newest addition to the canon.
Directed and scripted by Melanie Laurent, and primarily based on Victoria Mas’ novel of the identical identify, the richly cinematic costume drama follows the story of Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge), a well-heeled French woman residing in Belle Époque Paris in 1885. Eugénie is wise, an avid reader and a rebellious character with an curiosity in spiritualism. She additionally sees lifeless individuals.
Lou de Laâge portrays Eugénie, whose household locations her in a sinister neuro-psychiatric clinic in opposition to her will. Credit score: Christine Tamalet/Thibault Grabherr/Amazon Originals
Her disregard for conference proves an excessive amount of for her household. Towards Eugénie’s will, and to the heartbreak of her doting brother (Benjamin Voisin), her father François (Cédric Kahn) commits her to a sinister neuro-psychiatric clinic, the notorious — and real-life — Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. It’s an establishment the place girls deemed unfit for public life can be “hospitalized” and subjected to scientific surveillance and experimental therapies led by celebrated neurology pioneer Dr. Charcot (Grégoire Bonnet).
Right here, Eugénie finds herself amongst different “mad” girls, lots of whom have been pushed to depressive or psychotic states by the identical males who declare to be taking care of them.
There’s Louise (Lomane de Dietrich), who was despatched to the asylum after talking up about her sexually abusive uncle, solely to be harassed by one of many docs; Marguerite (Lauréna Thellier), a former pickpocket and intercourse employee who “suffers” from outbursts of rage; and Therese, an older girl who was dropped at the hospital for pushing her husband into the Seine River.
Whether or not mentally in poor health or just victims of trauma, abuse or exploitation, the sufferers are handled like objects to be prodded and studied, spotlighting the misogyny of early neuroscience and drugs at massive. (Whereas the idea of “hysteria” emerged within the medieval interval, it turned distinguished in European drugs and tradition within the nineteenth century.)
One of many film’s most overt shows of this dehumanization — the “Mad Girls’s Ball” — relies on an precise occasion the place, for one night time solely, the higher echelons of French society had been invited to gawk on the clinic’s residents dressed up of their finery.
As she’s put beneath the care of the sanatorium’s head nurse Geneviève (performed by director Laurent herself), Eugénie struggles to adapt to life at Salpêtrière. She is adamant she does not belong within the establishment — though she slowly involves query what — and who — precisely, is mad: her fellow prisoners inside, or these exterior, exerting management and displaying no empathy?
The movie is an uncomfortable reminder of how society has lengthy demonized the “hysterical girl.” Credit score: Christine Tamalet/Thibault Grabherr/Amazon Originals
When the spirit of a nurse’s lifeless sister begins speaking with Eugénie, Geneviève, too, begins questioning the place insanity lies and whether or not a world past the tangible could be potential in any case.
For Laurent, Eugénie’s story — and that of the ladies she befriends — felt like a timeless one. “I needed to make a film about witches within the Center Ages, as I’ve at all times been fascinated by that a part of historical past,” she mentioned in a video interview. “Then my producer despatched me the ‘Mad Girls’s Ball’ guide, and I believed it was extremely highly effective. It was horrifying to see that, 300 years on, girls who dared to be totally different and who may have made society extra attention-grabbing had been nonetheless made silent.”
The best way Laurent portrays this imposed silence is among the most compelling points of the film. Scenes specializing in the feminine sufferers’ expertise of the patriarchal establishment and its dystopian system of oppression are amongst the manufacturing’s sharpest and most enraging — and an uncomfortable reminder of how our tradition has lengthy demonized the “hysterical girl.”
However “The Mad Girls’s Ball” additionally triggers a special form of moral negotiation for the viewer. For all her quick-wittedness, Eugénie’s skill to talk with the lifeless is tough to know for anybody who values science over religion. On paper, she’s not “properly,” but calling her insane does not appear becoming both. This duality makes her character — and the film — all of the tougher, as we’re requested to grapple with the rational and the irrational, the appropriate and the otherworldly.
“Eugénie is delicate and fragile, however she’s additionally very robust,” Laurent mentioned. “She goes in opposition to the gang as a result of she is in opposition to the gang. I needed to emphasise that.”
As Geneviève begins rejecting the principles of Salpêtrière and decides to assist Eugénie, the emotional connection between the 2 girls in the end frees them each from a few of the constraints — societal and cultural — they’ve struggled in opposition to, serving to them discover their self-worth in a male-centeric world.
Add to Queue: Feminine hysteria in focus
It is the identical setting — the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital — however a special tackle Dr. Charcot and his experimental strategies to “remedy” girls. Alice Winocour’s film “Augustine” relies on the true story of a 19-year-old maid vulnerable to inexplicable shows of “hysteria” (very presumably epileptic suits) who turned one of many neurologist’s most famous sufferers. After a seizure leaves her paralyzed on one facet, Augustine is shipped off to the all-female psychiatric clinic, the place Charcot begins utilizing her as his principal topic, hypnotizing her in entrance of an enthralled viewers of male physicians to reveal his theories on insanity and neurosis. As Charcot and Augustine’s relationship continues, the boundary between physician and affected person begins to blur.
Lisa Appignanesi’s bold, richly researched guide explores the historical past of learning the feminine thoughts, investigating why girls by way of the years have been categorized as “mad,” “unhealthy” and “unhappy” way more typically than males. Mixing evocative case research — together with Zelda Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe and Virginia Woolf — with medical theories by Freud, Lacan and “female psychology” pioneer Karen Horney, it is an incredible dive into the complicated historical past of psychological sickness.
Darren Aronfonsky’s story of insanity is not set in an asylum, however the best way it addresses need, psychological sickness and private demons — whether or not imagined or actual — affords a recent tackle the “hystericized” girl. Nina Sayers is an expert dancer who will get tapped by her troupe’s manipulative director to play the Swan Queen. The function consists of two personas: the candy, virginal White Swan awaiting her prince, and the sexually provocative Black Swan, who lures the prince away. However the dichotomy proves an excessive amount of for the already troubled ballerina, who quickly begins having terrifying visions of her physique’s metamorphosis right into a swan.
A former US manufacturing facility city known as LeRoy, between Rochester and Buffalo in New York state, made headlines in 2012 when 14 women and one boy had been with undiagnosed verbal and bodily tics, in what was described as an episode of mass hysteria. Impressed by that occasion, Megan Abbott’s literary thriller chronicles a highschool hysteria outbreak by way of the eyes of teenage Deenie, inspecting how the “contagion” unravels friendships, households and the group.