For its first French original, Amazon Prime Video chose Mélanie Laurent. The actress and director adapted Le Bal des folles, a novel by Victoria Mas that tells the incredible and terrifying story of a mad woman in the Salpêtrière hospital, in Paris, in 1880. Lou de Laage leads the dance, but the waltz is rather gentle.
If American Horror Story goes to France for a season in Asylum, it will no doubt happen in Salpêtrière. Partly turned into a prison for women during the 17th century, this huge Parisian hospital became a nightmare in the late 19th century: it was the forced destination of thousands of women who were deemed uncomfortable by society, because of their age, their disability or disease. Crowded, persecuted, inhumane, they are forgotten by the world. Among them, there is the “worst”, the so-called crazy, more or less irreversible.
Chance or proof: after Alice Winocour with Augustine, in which Vincent Lindon played the infamous Professor Charcot, he’s still a director interested in this dark and little-known page of French history. Adapting the book by Victoria Mas, published in 2019, Mélanie Laurent tells an entirely female perspective on these male-constructed horrors, with fathers and self-proclaimed doctors as guardians of modesty.
Hence the story of Eugenie, a girl from a good family who is not only too rebellious in the eyes of society who locks the role of all, and above all, of all. He also has the gift of hearing and seeing the dead. And since XIX century France is not the enchanted empire of Disney or young adult novels, she is cast by her father at the oubliette La Pitié Salpêtrière, to serve hysterics. Welcome to Hell.
HOSPITAL AND THE GHOST
Zero mystery was created by Eugenie’s gift. Very quickly, doubts are swept away, and a fantastic character, assumed. The question then is no longer whether he is insane or not, but whether his insanity will sentence him to life in prison or, conversely, help him find a way out.
The film is a journey of survival, with two real-false hurdles embodied by two actresses: Mélanie Laurent and Emmanuelle Bercot, who pass the baton as temple guards who may falter in the face of Eugenie’s donation. And it’s the first major remake of the screenplay, co-written by the director and Christophe Deslandes (who signed Les Adoptés and Plonger together). These two roles are so reflective that the story seems to go round and round, especially since the second wife barely develops.
And like this new, barely more violent warden, Le Bal des folles remains at a distance, on the surface, choosing never to jump into the true horror of these places with women. Even while the film is reminiscent of a Papillon-type prison abyss, it’s only for a few scenes, and a lot of ellipses. Instead, the story gradually slips into easy melodrama, until the grand finale where pure dramatic-mechanics complete the illusion.
A F (L) EMMES INFLATION
The idea of the film is very easy to read: this crazy ball never really stops. Costumes and mores only evolved to continue to control and strangle women in society – and that’s not it, as the brother characters show. This modern look is of course the most successful, placing various forms of alienation in parallel. Staging and editing underline this mirror effect, especially with the ritual of the corset or the weight of male power, whether embodied by a leader or a father. There, the director and co-writer took over the subject.
From her first film, The Adopted, director Mélanie Laurent has impressed, and has shown a beautiful body and face. An extended look at his second film, Respire, already starring Lou de La ages. This precision is in the first scene of Bal des folles, where he films his back and neck, but his strength evaporates after that.
It was clear that the trap was too big to avoid, so much of Le Bal des folles seemed to quickly sink into this lukewarm gaze, both clinical and visceral. As the film progresses, for two long hours, everything seems to be on autopilot.
Those emotions then gradually carried overa in this gentle dance. Lou de La’s impressive age still carries the film on his solid shoulders, accompanied by some sadly overly erased supporting roles (specifically the touching Lomane De Dietrich, mellow Benjamin Voisin, and Cédric Kahn’s concrete block). But on the side of Emmanuelle Bercot and especially actress Mélanie Laurent, it’s a lot more mechanical.
Their more methodical, forced interpretation suggests, perhaps because of the not-so-good writing of these two women, which explodes at a worthy ending to TF1’s bad summer saga. This Bal des Folles begins with passion and violence, but then ends with a few polite and academic sighs.
Le Bal des folles has been available on Amazon Prime Video in France since 17 September 2021